2016 Legislative Food Fights: Seminole Compact faces skeptical Legislature

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Opens In South Florida

This is one of two gambling stories in advance of the 2016 Legislative Session. For a separate preview of gambling issues besides the Seminole Compact, click here.

The back-and-forth and backroom dealing is over, and lawmakers soon will publicly comb through the new blackjack deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The 63-page document revived the old joke around the Capitol: It 

Last year’s lobby team kept a relatively low profile: Emily Buckley, Gus Corbella, Hayden and Angela Dempsey, Fred Dickinson, Charles Dudley, Leslie Dughi, William McKinley, Christopher Moya, Van Poole, Barry Richard and Screven Watson

They can expect a more vigorous workout this year. As FloridaPolitics’ Peter Schorsch put it, the new Seminole Compact is “a Spruce Goose seemingly too heavy to take off.”

This is exactly why A (not THE, as it is currently drafted) compact will be agreed to by all parties. The Legislature will hang amendments all over this Christmas tree of a deal; Scott will sign off on them because he really doesn’t care either way; and the Seminole Tribe will eventually agree to a revised Compact because the certainty of a deal will allow it to bond its way into an even more lucrative future.

The broad outline of the deal is it allows the tribe to continue offering blackjack at its casinos in return for a $3 billion cut of the take over seven years.

But other provisions have gambling antagonists and some lawmakers choking on their Cheerios.

The agreement would let the Seminoles add roulette and craps tables, as well as permit the Legislature to OK slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and allow blackjack at some South Florida racetracks “with some limitations.”

John Sowinski, who leads the No Casinos anti-expansion group, said the renegotiated agreement “will lead to the largest gambling expansion in state history, taking South Florida in the direction of Las Vegas and Atlantic City.”

State Rep. Dana Young of Tampa, the House Republican leader, has said the compact as now written would be “a very heavy lift in the Legislature.”

Young, whose own gambling overhaul legislation died last session, also said Scott’s deal favored tribal gambling at the expense of “the free market.”

Even Scott stepped away from his work product a mere day after releasing it, saying state lawmakers will “make a decision if they want to look at the compact … It’s good for the state. But the Legislature will decide whether they want to go forward.”

Blackjack has been big money for the tribe and the state. In 2010, the tribe agreed to pay at least $1 billion into the state treasury for rights to offer the card game at seven of its casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa. That provision expired this past summer, requiring a new meeting of minds.

Jim Rosica

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 [email protected].


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