Florida Governor Rick Scott told reporters Thursday that he had done his job and that now it’s up to house leadership as to how his renegotiated gambling deal with the Seminole tribe will move forward.
The proposed $3 billion deal didn’t float lightly when it came up for discussion in the Senate on Wednesday with lawmakers asking probing questions about its impact on the state’s parimutuel industry among other things. One senator questioned why an as yet to be determined race track or Jai Alai fonton in Miami-Dade County, along with the Palm Beach Kennel Club would be able to add slot machines while voters in five other counties have already approved adding slots to their parimutuel facilities and were not given any new authority in the bill. Senators from Miami noted that there are already four tracks with slots in their county and they weren’t interested in adding more.
Scott’s policy director, Jeff Woodburn fielded a barrage of other questions and tried to explain how the negotiations went down, telling lawmakers that every element of the deal came at some sort of price, whether it was added or removed in the negotiating process. The agreement as currently proposed would triple the Seminole Tribe’s payments to the state over the next 7 years for a total of $3 billion in exchange for expanded table game offerings such as roulette and craps at casinos including Seminole Hard Rock, plus increasing the number of Seminole casinos offering blackjack from five to seven. In addition to needing the approval of both houses of congress in Tallahassee, the deal would still need to be approved by federal Indian gaming regulators. Any changes to the proposal would also need to be approved by the tribe.
In spite of reduced estimates for the new fiscal year beginning July 1, Scott is promoting a plan to cut up to $1 billion in corporate taxes, and is more frequently mentioning the casino deal as a way to pay for it or any future shortfalls. State revenues are expected to climb by more than $1 billion this year even without the new-found money from gaming proceeds if the compromise is approved.
Some of the most harsh criticism of the proposed compact centers around “decoupling”. As proposed, some racetracks would no longer be required to offer live racing in order to be able to offer poker and other card games. Opponents say it would be the death of the dog and horse racing industries in the state.
Lawmakers will be in session until March 11.
In related news, A federal judge set a July trial date for the Seminole Tribe’s gambling lawsuit against the state stemming from their now expired 2010 gambling agreement late last week. Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked for the suit to be tossed, but the judge called her contention that the state only has an obligation to negotiate an initial compact in good faith, not subsequent compacts “plainly wrong.”
“Any reading of the act that would suggest a state has no duty to negotiate at that time would make no sense — it would mean that when a state’s first compact with a tribe ended, the state would be relieved of any obligation to negotiate a new or extended compact,” he wrote.