State Politics

Senate approves gambling legislation

TALLAHASSEE — With a swift 29-9 vote and little debate, the Senate on Thursday approved gambling legislation that ratifies an agreement between Florida and the Seminole Tribe, sending the bill to the House for a vote next week.

The bill is expected to become law in time for the state to bank $435 million for its budget.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the tribe signed the agreement a week ago, after nearly three years of negotiations, two failed previous attempts at a gambling compact and a month of back-room negotiations.

The measure gives the tribe slot machines at seven casinos on its reservations, and blackjack and two other card games in Broward, Tampa and Immokalee. The agreement prohibits roulette and craps at the tribe’s casinos.

In exchange, the tribe agrees to guarantee the state at least $1 billion in revenues over the next five years and share its revenues from slot machines for 20 years.

The legislation will also reduce the tax rate on the casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward in an effort to make it easier for them to compete with the growing Seminole gambling presence.

“This is a good bill. We’ve had gaming in this state for 85 years,” said Sen. Dennis Jones, a Seminole Republican, who led the Senate negotiations with the tribe. He called the tribe “good partners who are willing to pay the state $1 billion.”

The tribe has sought a gambling agreement with the state for more than 20 years and Jones said this “basically puts this issue to rest.”

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Tampa, disagreed. She warned that the bill will destroy families, increase crime and lead more Floridians to gambling addiction.

She unsuccessfully attempted to amend the bill to require that 1 percent of the state revenues go into treatment for compulsive gamblers.The House is expected to take up the bill Monday and send it to the governor for his signature.

Local lawmakers all voted in favor of Senate Bill 622, including state Sens. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton; Nancy Detert, R-Venice; and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who was chairman of the House committee overseeing the compact, said Thursday he was “very pleased” with the vote in the Senate.

“I am looking forward to taking the issue up on Monday in the House of Representatives,” he said, adding he is confident of its passage there.

“It is one of the most challenging issues the state has faced, we have been dealing with this issue 20 years,” Galvano said.

The compact would produce anywhere from a minimum of $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion for the state over five years, beginning with $287 million that would be released immediately upon execution of the compact, Galvano said.

The money is in an account that has captured proceeds from activities the tribe has already engaged in while negotiations continued, Galvano said.