State Politics

House passes new gambling agreement

The state House of Representatives on Tuesday approved legislation that outlines new terms for a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and provides more competitive options for pari-mutuel businesses such as dog and horse tracks.

The bills would require the Seminoles to halt card games such as blackjack and baccarat at their casinos, but would allow them exclusive rights to operate slots in counties that don’t already have them.

“I always worried that this issue scares people,” said state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, chairman of the House Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review. “And we have a conservative approach, and one I felt was very reasonable, and one that did not full-on expand gambling.

“That’s why I believe the members were able to, in a significant majority, support it,” he added after the vote in Tallahassee.

The vote was 84-27 on the Compact Review legislation.

The Tribe is encouraged by the House vote, spokesman Gary Bitner said.

“They’re very hopeful the details can be worked out with the Senate for ultimate approval,” he added.

Under terms of the plan, pari-mutuel businesses such as the Sarasota Kennel Club could become more competitive through extended hours and higher wagering limits. Others that currently operate slot machines would enjoy a reduced tax rate tied to a minimum annual payment under the plan.

“We’re looking at getting money from the Tribe without diminishing money coming in from our pari-mutuels,” Galvano said. “It’s really a challenge to our pari-mutuels to invest in our economy and create jobs without expanding games in Florida.”

The House agreement would require the Seminoles to guarantee annual revenues to the state of $100 million, but the arrangement could generate much more than the minimum, up to an estimated $373 million annually, said Galvano. In addition, the plan calls for existing pari-mutuels to guarantee revenue payments of another $132.9 million annually to the state, he said.

The House version differs considerably from that of the Senate, which would allow a wholesale expansion of gaming. A conference committee will try to reconcile measures passed by the two chambers before the end of the session May 1.

Asked what the prognosis for agreement might be, Galvano replied, “I remain an optimist. I think there are areas we can agree and make some progress.”

Legislators are reviewing the compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe, owner of seven casinos. The nearest one to Manatee County is 40 miles north in Tampa. The courts voided a 2007 agreement negotiated by Gov. Charlie Crist on grounds he exceeded his authority.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com

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