The House and Senate chambers in the state of Florida remain in disagreement on whether or not slot machines should be allowed in eight counties, despite voters in those counties having approved gambling. However, the two chambers are willing to work on a compromise to be able to sign an agreement with the Seminole Tribe to see a nice payday for the state.
Jose Felix Diaz is the House Commerce Committee Chairman who stated that the House is not going to support slot machines in the eight counties, as was approved by the votes if it meant that additional gambling sites would be added in the state. According to a report in the Naples News, Diaz stated that at some point last year, there was a proposal that would have expanded slot machine gaming in the counties and the goals of the House are focused on other matters; a contraction in gaming and a long-term solution.
In the last legislative session, expanded gambling was a hot topic of debate in the House and Senate. Because of the contention, lawmakers were kept from ratifying a $3.1 billion gambling deal that had been previously set with the Seminole Tribe.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Senate President Joe Negron stated that legislators should act according to the will of the people, those who voted on the local referendums. However, he did agree that approving a compact with the Seminoles is a top priority for 2017. Negron stated that legislators should not stand in the way of what voters want but he also thinks there is room for compromise. Diaz thinks that there is still time for the Senate and House to find common ground as the new legislative session begins in March.
According to reports, Governor Rick Scott has met with tribal representatives but Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner did not provide any details on the meeting. Bitner did say that the tribe is open to discussions and negotiations as part of their desire to continue to finalize a new gaming compact with the state, however, the Tribe prefers not to negotiate in the media.
In November, Duval and St. Lucie counties approved referendums that would allow slot games to be placed in pari-mutuel facilities. This would add to the six other counties that already approved an expansion of gambling. Three counties, Lee, Gadsden and Brevard approved expansion in 2012.
Creek Entertainment of Gadsden recently sued the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation after they were denied a slot machine permit by the agency. The case was heard by the Florida Supreme Court in June. Despite county voter approval, the pari-mutuel facility was told they needed legislative approval to add slots. Voters approved legalized slot machines at such facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in 2004.
A 2010 compact provided the Seminoles with exclusive rights to operate casino games which included slots. The tribe was to make payments to the state in order to have the exclusive rights for gaming. By December of last year, a revised compact had been created between the tribe and Scott that would allow new venues to be created with slot gaming in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
However, the agreement would not have allowed slot machines to be offered at such facilities as the Gretna location or the Naples-Fort Myers Track and Entertainment Center. This agreement projected that the state would be given over $3 billion in a seven-year time frame. The compact was not passed and now legislators must come up with another agreement.