Seminole Tribe pushes for continued gambling monopoly as Florida lawmakers resist

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is looking for support to continue an agreement giving it exclusive rights on certain gambling business in Florida, but House and Senate leadership seem immune to the push.

The state government in 2010 granted the Seminole Tribe a gambling agreement, known as the compact, allowing the tribe to run blackjack tables and other banked card games at some of its casinos, as well as exclusively run slots outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The part of the compact allowing banked card games expires in July absent action from legislators. State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, indicated House and Senate leadership are willing to let it happen.

"It's not necessary for us to act," said Galvano, Senate majority leader and main negotiator on the original agreement. "The governor didn't include those funds in his budget and we're not planning on including them in ours, either."

Seminole representatives met Tuesday with Bradenton Herald officials to discuss the consequences of inaction, namely a loss to the state of just less than $4 billion over the next 15 years.

Under the current compact, the Seminole Tribe projects a payout to the state of $6.1 billion over the next 15 years. Without the provision, the original agreement

allows payments to drop to $2.1 billion to the state over the same time, according to James Allen, chief executive officer of Seminole Gaming.

"We need additional approval to continue table games, but looking back the relationship has been very positive," Allen said. "So we're hopeful that the relationship can continue, because if not we'll be in the position of laying off 3,100 individuals."

Further complicating the Seminole push, House Majority Leader Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, has introduced a 319-page bill to revamp gambling policies in Florida. If approved, it would effectively end all exclusive agreements with the Seminole Tribe and focus on tax revenue from other entities looking to cash in on Florida gaming.

"We're going to see how that bill does across the hall," Galvano said of Senate support for the House bill. "If the bill passes the House and comes over here, we'll analyze it then."

Young's bill would effectively open the Florida gambling market to competition, allowing banked card games, casino resort destinations, racing and slot machines throughout the state under certain regulations. Those private companies would be taxed while the Seminole Tribe is not.

If Young's bill becomes law, the Seminoles could still operate under the current capacity, but would not have an effective monopoly on gambling operations nor have to make payments to the state under the original agreement.

If the Legislature passes no gambling bill and the compact provision is allowed to expire, the Seminole Tribe would have to shut down banked card games but could continue running slots absent any action until 2030.

Allen said keeping the compact between the Seminole Tribe and Florida is mutually beneficial because it provides a balance between providing an outlet for gambling and preserving Florida's family friendly image since it limits the number of casinos allowed.

"We think (the compact) has slowed down the expansion of gaming, which has kept the family image of the state of Florida," said Jim Shore, general counsel for the Seminole Tribe. "But if they want to open up the gaming industry, that's their choice and we'll deal with it as it comes."

The family friendly image is a concern for many legislators and has killed gambling bills in the past. Galvano indicated it isn't a major issue on his mind this year.

"The reality is -- with us being the fourth- or the sixth-largest gaming state, depending on who you ask -- that we have a lot of gaming going on in this state," Galvano said. "We need to address that."