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All in—or out? Gambling revenue puzzles state economists

A roundtable of state economists Tuesday decided to take a pass on adopting a forecast for Indian gambling dollars that flow to the state.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida pays over $200 million a year into state coffers as part of a deal that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, especially blackjack.

And even though the Tribe and the state settled their lawsuit over blackjack, the Revenue Estimating Conference this August added a telling footnote to their projections, basically telling lawmakers who build the yearly state budget: Don’t count on this money.

They called it “nonrecurring” because it “cannot be anticipated with sufficient certainty.”

The conference debated Tuesday but left for another day whether to leave that proviso on their work, or start calling the Seminole money “recurring.”

Though the Tribe publicly doesn’t challenge state gambling regulators’ promise of “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity, some within the Tribe aren’t so happy with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, charged with policing gambling in Florida.

It’s a big deal: Break the Seminole Compact – the contract on exclusive games and payments between the state and Tribe – and it’s entitled to pay not one more dime.

“Aggressive enforcement (means) that we are actively going out and looking,” said Jason Maine, the department’s general counsel, speaking to lawmakers in November.

“We’re actively taking action without complaint to verify that operation of any card game is operated legally under statute,” he said. “We … evaluate facilities individually, the games that they are playing, looking at the mechanics of the game….”

The sides are now in a “forbearance period;” think of it as each eyeing the other warily.

As Amy Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist, put it, it’s like the Tribe saying, “as long as you try, as long as you make this good-faith ‘aggressive enforcement,’ as long as you’re trying, we won’t invoke any other option,” such as cutting off the checks.

That is, until April 1, when the forbearance period ends.

“What we don’t know is, say at the end of March, is a ‘good-faith’ effort enough?” Baker said. The Compact sets it up as an all-or-nothing, it terms of paying up.

For instance, the Tribe’s top in-house lawyer has warned lawmakers that fantasy sports bills filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, if passed, would violate the Compact.

And the Tribe has filed suit against operators of what’s called “electronic gambling parlors” in the Jacksonville area, saying they too violate the Compact.

Bottom line: There’s enough already eating at the Tribe to make revenue estimators sweat.

Written By

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee 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

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