Florida Governor Signs $3 Billion Guaranteed Gaming Compact with Seminole Tribe
Gov. Rick Scott signed a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida on Monday. The signing came after months of tough negotiation between the State of Florida and the tribe.
At one point, the Seminole Tribe threatened to stop sending gaming taxes to the state. Administration officials discussed a possible lawsuit over those payments, while Florida newspapers speculated whether the casino deal ever would get done. Sides were drawn in the state’s media, preparing for a rift. Now, the rift is healed and a hard-fought negotiation comes to an end with both sides making concessions.
$3 Billion Guaranteed over 7 Years
The deal is expected to generate $3 billion in revenues for Florida’s treasury over the first 7 years of the 20-year deal. In exchange, the Seminoles receive exclusive rights to operate blackjack games. The tribe also received the right to add roulette wheels and craps tables to their gaming venues.
The casino-racetracks or racinos of Florida also received concessions. The racinos in Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County received the right to operate slot machines in their complexes. Also, the South Florida racetracks also received permission to seek a vote from Floridians on whether to include limited blackjack betting in the racinos’ gaming spaces.
South Florida Casino Construction
One other major concession was made in the compact. Previously, the Seminole Tribe did not have to continue making payments to the state if rival gaming facilities were opened, such as the proposed two casinos in South Florida. Under the new compact, the Native American gaming interest still makes payments if new casinos are opened.
That opens the door for the Malaysian casino conglomerate, Genting Group, to open a casino in Biscayne Bay on the site of the former Miami Herald. Genting like would build a world-class integrated casino which would be a major rival to the Seminole’s seven gaming venues in the state. Genting owns the only casino in New York City (Resorts World Queens) and is build the most expensive casino ever built in Las Vegas: Resorts World Las Vegas.
Approval Needed in Legislature
Next, the bill has to gain approval in the Florida legislature. Gov. Scott wrote the leaders of the Florida House and Senate, detailing the reasons he believed lawmakers should approve the compact. The governor wrote, “With a $3 billion guarantee along with a cap on the tribe’s gaming, it is my hope that this compact can be the foundation of a stable and predictable gaming environment for the state of Florida.”
State Senator Rob Bradley, one of two chief negotiators on the deal along with Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, gave his wholehearted support for the compact. The Republican from Fleming Island said, “I think it’s a good, fair deal for the people of the state of Florida.”
Parimutuel Betting Bill
The debate in both houses is expected to be complicated, due to the need to pass a second bill which grants the concessions to the parimutuel racetracks in the state.
The second bill proposes provisions to help the parimutuel racetracks to stay in business. They would receive a 25% lowering of taxes, to compensate for lost revenues over the past few years. One controversial topic is the idea of de-coupling the dog- and horse-racing industries from the racetracks, meaning races would not have to be taking place for the gaming machines to be in operation. Such a provision might damage the off-site horse training and dog training industries of the state, and cost jobs.
Designated Player Games
The bill also concerns a specific type of gambling called “designated player games“. Designated player games allow gamblers to play a variation of 3-card poker which is not banked by the casino. The provision allows racinos to skirt Florida’s laws against house-banked games. Blackjack is played as a player-banked game, too.
The implication that designated player games might be made illegal outrages the racino owners. They were made legal 3 years ago and they argue that a strict ban on them now would confuse players, who might think they were gambling illegally all the time. Such a reversal would make players doubt the trustworthiness of the local gaming venues, say the operators.
Industry Comments on the Compact
Jamie Shelton, Bestbet Jacksonville’s company president, told the Sun Sentinel, “Our patrons will be incensed. I can’t explain it. We were authorized to do it and then we’re not authorized.”
Greg Gelyon, the VP of Tampa Bay Downs, said the decision to “yank” designated player games from his complex would lead to “a rumor mill that will go wild.”
Jonathan Zachem, the director of the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering, says that the activity is banned under current state law. “It has to be specifically authorized,” said Jonathan Zachem when asked about such gaming. Thus, a law has to be passed which allows for designated players games. The racinos will lobby for such a law, while the Seminoles are likely to lobby against it.“