Senate President Andy Gardiner says he’s still unclear whether changes made this week to the proposed gambling deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida would violate an existing agreement between the two.
“We probably have to get some revenue estimating numbers to find out,” he told reporters after Thursday’s floor session. “There are some that will believe it affects the existing compact, and if it passes, the existing compact will go away.”
The tribe already has paid Florida more than $1 billion since 2010 for exclusive rights to offer blackjack. Those rights expired last year, requiring a new deal.
The new contract guarantees $3 billion over seven years for continued exclusivity to offer blackjack. The tribe now has blackjack at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and six other casinos.
Tribal spokesman Gary Bitner has said card games generate just under 20 percent of the tribe’s total gambling revenue, which is up to $1 billion yearly just at the Tampa location.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling in Florida, approved both measures (SB 7072, SB 7074) on Wednesday with changes. The full Legislature and U.S. Department of Interior still must sign off on the agreement.
Changes made this week include expanding slot machines beyond South Florida to pari-mutuel facilities, lowering the effective tax rate on the machines, and clarifying that fantasy sports play is a game of skill and not gambling.
Expanding the availability of slot machines will likely violate another portion of the existing agreement, which in some instances means the Seminoles can reduce or stop sharing gambling revenue altogether. That affects revenue available for the upcoming state budget.
“All the changes … make that bill a pretty heavy lift,” Gardiner added, saying he’d figure out what to do with the compact and related gambling legislation “in the next couple of days.”
“But it makes no sense to me to move it till we know what the fiscal impact is,” he said.
At a jobs event in Naples Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott said he had not yet reviewed the changes to the Compact.
“The compact I signed is the right thing for the state,” he said. “Right now it’s in the House and the Senate, and I respect their decision.”
Southwest Florida correspondent Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster contributed. Jim Rosica (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee.