Florida House and Senate Leaders Meet to Negotiate Tribal-Racino Gambling Laws

Florida House and Senate Leaders Meet to Negotiate Tribal-Racino Gambling Laws
Gov. Rick Scott (left) and Sen. Bill Galvano (right) celebrated passage of the latest gambling bill in late January 2017.

Leaders in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate met on Monday to discuss conflicting policies on gambling legislation. It was decided that a conference committee on gambling will begin meetings on Thurday and the two sides might negotiate throughout the weekend.

Florida State Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), a longtime expert on Florida gambling laws, is set to chair the conference. The main agenda is to determine a common policy on a deal with the Seminole Tribe, whose previous deal partially expired in late 2015.

Rick Scott’s 2015 Gaming Compact

In December 2015, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bargain with the Seminole Tribe that appeared as if it would assure a multi-billiion deal for the state.

The Florida State Legislature did not pass the compact, though, leaving the Seminoles’ gaming agreement in legal limbo.

The 2015 deal would have set policy for 20 years and given the tribe exclusive rights to banked card games. “Banked” card games are those which pit the player versus the house, as the casino bankrolls the bets. Blackjack, craps, and roulette are examples of banked games. Poker is not a banked game, because it pits players versus players, with the casino only taking a rake from each pot as a fee for hosting the event.

Florida’s Banked Game Laws

Back in 2015, the Seminoles sued to maintain the ability to conduct banked games. A federal judge granted the tribe the right to conduct games under the terms of the previous 2010 compact.

At the moment, the Florida House of Representatives is backing a deal which would give the Seminoles the right to operate banked games for another 20 years. The Florida Senate prefers a deal which would allows slot machines at pari-mutuel racetracks in eight specific counties.

8 Counties Approved Slot Machines

Voters in those eight countries — Brevard, Palm Beach, Duval, Hamilton, St. Lucie, Gadsden, Washington, and Lee Counties — each passed measures approving slot machines. The Seminole Tribe maintains that the expansion of slot machine gambling breaks exclusivity terms of the compact.

Even among those who support the pari-mutuel slot machine provisions cannot agree on which sites receive slots, which makes the negotiations particularly tricky. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami), who serves as vice-chair of the committee, said they are hoping Thursday’s sessions produce a new determination to get a deal done.

Rivalry between Florida Counties

Diaz told journalists on Monday, “Obviously, there are members from each of those communities that are looking out to make sure that one county doesn’t get new slots and their county is left out.

The chief complicating factor is the “designated player” games offered at some racinos. These games allow gamblers to serve as the banker on games which the casino usually banks. The Seminole Tribe believes electronic blackjack and electronic roulette games with designated players break the compact — and they cite dozens of other states which view the matter the same way.

Rivalry between the House and Senate

The Florida Senate wants to legalize designated player games for racetracks, while the Florida House wants to ban them. Once again, the House is taking a pro-Seminole stance, while the Senate is taking a pro-racetrack stance.

Meanwhile, the Seminole Tribe wants to add craps and roulette to its casinos. They contend that the changes the Florida Senate wants to makes violates the compact and places the $3 billion over 7 year plan in jeopardy.

Diaz: “Figure Out What’s More Important”

Rep. Jose Felipe Diaz said the coming negotiations should determine what the Seminole Tribe finds most important, as both sides try to hammer out a deal by making certain concessions.

Diaz signaled lawmakers are going to have to make tough decisions, too, as he said, “We’re going to have to figure out what’s more important, (not) giving them those new games or getting more money for the state, because you might not be able to do both.

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