Efforts to convince Florida lawmakers the benefits of the compact negotiated by Governor Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe outweigh the downsides were in full swing this weekend as tribal leaders deployed dozens of employees of the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa to Tallahassee in an attempt to get the deal ratified by the Legislature.
Under the terms of the proposed agreement, in exchange for exclusive rights to expand table game offerings such as craps and roulette at tribal casinos over the next seven years the tribe, would pay the state a total of $3 billion, tripling the current payments. The number of Seminole casinos offering blackjack would also increase from five to seven. Through the compact, the tribe also promises to preserve existing positions in addition to creating 4,800 new jobs. Baccarat and blackjack have been played on tribal casino floors in Florida, including Seminole Hard Rock, since former Governor Charlie Crist signed the last compact in 2007.
However, if the Legislature rejects the compact, the tribe said jobs could be threatened at tribal casinos like the Hard Rock, by increasing competition from pari-mutuels. A dealer at the Hard Rock since 2008, Caroline Higginbotham said, “If this compact doesn’t go through, we can’t go down the street and do this someplace else; we have to actually leave the state, which we don’t want to do because we’re happy where we’re at and we want to keep our jobs,” according to Bay News 9.
While job creation efforts have been largely supported by the Legislature, many of the Governor’s fellow republicans are questioning its impact on the state’s pari-mutuel industry as well as Scott’s plan to use much of the revenue from the compact to pay for his controversial $1 billion corporate tax cut package. Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) stated during a recent hearing, “What could happen here, conceivably, if we pass this compact, is we would generate this revenue, but then this revenue could conceivably then immediately go out in a tax cut for, you know, C corporations.”
Another concern and one that has received some of the harshest criticism, is the compacts centering on “decoupling.” Decoupling would remove a requirement that live racing, or jai alai games, must be offered by tracks or risk losing more lucrative operations such as slot machines or poker rooms, depending on the county. Opponents say it would be the death of the horse and dog racing industries in Florida. Social conservatives are also concerned the addition of Las Vegas-style games could lead to problem gambling, which would hurt the state’s family-friendly image.
Lawmakers will be in session until March 11 and next week legislation is expected to be rolled out by the Senate’s Republican leaders to approve the compact. However, anticipating difficulty passing the bill, they are already downplaying expectations.