Once again, the powers that be in Tallahassee stand poised to punt on gambling legislation. Two gaming bills sit stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee as the session winds down. That panel could take up gambling legislation during today's committee meeting, should the sponsor of one of the bills revive it. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, should, if only for discussion.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has been pessimistic about passage for months, stating legislation is likely to be delayed until the 2017 session so all concerns can be addressed, primarily from the parimutuel industry. Why weren't they addressed ahead of the 2016 session?
The issue became forced on the governor and Legislature when a certain provision of the 2010 compact with the Seminole Tribe expired last year. Everyone saw this coming years ago but did little to head off this stalemate.
The state and tribe are locked in a battle over that 2010 provision, which gave the Seminoles the exclusive right to banked card games like blackjack at five of its casinos in exchange for payments of $100 million annually.
The state insisted the tribe close down those games when the provision expired. But the games continue as the Seminoles claim the state broke the exclusivity clause in the compact by authorizing player-banked card poker games elsewhere. The tribe sued.
Nobody acted decisively on the compact until this past December, when Gov. Rick Scott signed a 20-year agreement with the Seminoles. The deal guarantees the state $3 billion over seven years, but expands gambling by awarding the tribe exclusive rights to add craps and roulette and expand current games and slots to all seven tribal casinos.
The Legislature must approve the deal for it to become law. The House and Senate, though, have resisted the tribe's monopoly and want to adopt policies that benefit the declining but still powerful parimutuel industry.
The new compact does accomplish some of that as the Seminoles agreed to forego their statewide monopoly on blackjack and allow slots outside several South Florida counties, among other concessions. But those provisions do not satisfy the parimutuel industry as a whole.
This Editorial Board has staunchly opposed an expansion of gambling in a state where the family-friendly tourism industry dominates the economy. But some sort of expansion appears inevitable.
The Seminole's lawsuit could open a Pandora's box and lead to more widespread gambling than this new compact envisions. The suit seeks a court order that the state declare the table games legal.
The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act gives the tribe, a sovereign nation, the right to request court intervention.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate's shameful procrastination likely will continue for another year.