For five years now, the state of Florida has been locked into a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, giving them exclusive rights to offer table games like blackjack at their casinos. Now, with the compact due to expire soon and a new Florida casino expansion bill on the table, the tribe says Gov. Scott is sidestepping negations of a new compact.
According to the conditions of the current Tribal State Gaming Compact, set to expire July 31, 2015, in exchange for banked card game exclusivity in Florida, the Seminoles have contributed a guaranteed $1 billion to the state since 2010 (minimum $200 million per year). Previous talks with Gov. Rick Scott to renew the contract fell apart at the end of last year, and the tribe has until May 1, when the current legislative session ends, to make something happen.
On the other side of the fence, there’s a Florida casino expansion bill looming in the air. The bill was introduced earlier this month by House Majority Leader Dana Young [R-Tampa], and would allow two Las Vegas-style, resort casinos to be built in Broward and/o Miami-Dade County. If passed, the casino expansion bill would allow these operators to house just about every form of casino gambling found in Vegas, including the tables games currently restricted to 7 of the state’s 9 Seminole-owned tribal casinos.
In a rare interview offered to The News Service of Florida and Herald/Times, reporters sat down with three Seminole officials, Gaming Chief Executive Officer Jim Allen, Tribal Councilman Andrew Bowers and General Counsel Jim Shore. They discussed their desire to negotiate a new compact and continue providing exclusive table game services to Florida gamblers, and the unwillingness of the governor’s office to accommodate.
Shore told reporters that they’ve had no contact with Gov. Scott since January. At that time, Shore said the governor’s office told them that legislators would handle the talks of renegotiation from here on out. Henceforth, Gov. Scott has refused to negotiate with them directly.
“We don’t know what negotiation means. We’re talking to legislators, trying to educate them on the compact and stuff,” said Shore, “but we haven’t had any specific person or office to negotiate directly yet.”
In reality, if the new casino expansion bill is passed, the state may no longer need the 6-figure revenue boost from the Seminoles. With hefty regulatory fees and gaming taxes coming in from the destination casinos, Rep. Young said that the revenue from those two operations alone would surpass anything the Seminole’s have poured into the coffers each year.
Up close, it certainly appears to be a waiting game on the part of Gov. Scott. If no new compact is struck, Florida will have every right to go ahead with the new casino expansion bill, without contractual backlash from the Seminoles.
According to the 2010 compact, no non-tribal casino outside of Borward or Miami-Dade Counties may offer slot machines, lest the tribe be allowed to halt payments. Even if a new casino opens in those counties with slot machines, or if any pari-mutuel facility presents banked card games, the tribe can reduce its payments. But once July 31 comes, if no new agreement is signed, all bets (except those laid on passage of the casino expansion bill) are off.