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State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (Photo: Florida House)

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House all but declares defeat on Seminole Compact, gambling legislation

Their lips were saying “not dead yet” but House leadership otherwise made clear that the Seminole Compact and gambling legislation are goners for this Legislative Session.

“I’m not ready to declare it dead yet,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami Republican who shepherded the bills through the process this year. Diaz spoke after the House’s floor session.

After a deep breath, he added, “… but that’s the word around town.”

Diaz said he talked to his counterpart, state Sen. Rob Bradley, earlier Tuesday. Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, chairs the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries, which oversees gambling issues.

“I said, ‘Do you think it’s really and truly dead?’ And he said …” Diaz nodded his head up and down, signaling Bradley said yes.

Seminole Tribe of Florida spokesman Gary Bitner did not comment on Tuesday’s turn of events, but said the tribe might issue a statement on Wednesday.

The tribe’s Tallahassee attorney had blamed the apparent collapse of the 2016 gambling bills on lawmakers bending over backward to appease the state’s dog and horse racing concerns.

The Compact was a new agreement to let the Seminoles continue to offer blackjack at their tribal casinos in return for $3 billion to the state over seven years.

But Barry Richard, who represents the Seminole Tribe of Florida, questioned the Legislature’s trying to help the state’s struggling pari-mutuels, expanding their ability to offer slots and cards as horse and dog racing’s appeal continues to decline.

Ultimately, as Senate budget chief Tom Lee said, there weren’t enough votes in any of the Legislature’s gambling factions to pass something.

“You were never going to get 61 votes without some kind of pari-mutuel concessions,” Diaz said, referring to a majority of the House’s 120 members. “But there does come a point where it gets too heavy.”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli separately told reporters he wasn’t counting the Compact out yet, but also said, “We all understood what was coming. There was just a reality to all that.”

That said, Diaz offered, “I’m willing to see if we can get the blood moving again.”

Ironically, one gambling lobbyist, when asked about the Compact’s chances this Session, said, “… It’s in full bleed.”

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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