State Politics

House OKs billion-dollar gambling accord

MANATEE — After years of trying, the Florida House of Representatives finally approved a new agreement Monday with casino-operator the Seminole Tribe of Florida, guaranteeing the state a minimum of $1 billion over five years.

The legislation won approval, 74-39, with the entire local delegation voting in favor. The House’s action in Tallahassee followed Senate approval last week, which also drew all ayes from local lawmakers.

State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who chaired the House committee overseeing gaming issues and was a key member of the negotiating team, told lawmakers in urging them to vote in favor: “I think it is a very good deal.”

In exchange for revenues it will pay to the state, the tribe will enjoy partial but substantial gaming exclusivity, Galvano told the chamber.

A number of legislators applauded Galvano for his tenacity, his negotiating skill, and his inclusion of suggestions from the minority Democratic party as the measure took shape for months.

“He was dealt deuces, and he came up with aces,” said Rep. James W. “Jim” Waldman, D-Coconut Creek.

Much of the discussion about the measure focused on the accord’s huge financial impact on the state, and its potential for job creation at a time when Florida has suffered through a severe unemployment crisis.

“I erred, if you will, on the side of supporting gaming because I know the impact it will make for jobs and for economic stimulus in local communities and for the businesses, parimutuels, to be competitive,” state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said after the vote.

Said state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton: “I gotta tell you, I’m glad we passed it — we’ll need the money.”

Those who opposed it considered gambling a pollutant, others thought the state could get a better deal, and still others said it would jeopardize jobs at parimutuel businesses trying to compete against the tribe.

Afterward, Gov. Charlie Crist thanked Galvano and House Speaker Larry Cretul, and said he looked forward to signing the legislation.

In a statement, the tribe applauded the decision, adding it “salutes the hard work of Rep. Bill Galvano, who was instrumental in making it happen.”

“With a signature on the bill by Gov. Crist and approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the 20-year effort by the Seminole Tribe to establish a gaming compact will reach a successful conclusion,” the statement said.

Galvano, who emphasized the legislation represented a practical solution to an inherited problem, told the House: “There comes a time in this process when the issue is bigger than maybe is talked about back home — when we are called upon to be statesmen and women.”

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