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State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Influence

Gambling concessions to pari-mutuels same as “ransom,” Tom Lee says

Echoing a Seminole Tribe attorney earlier in the day, Senate budget chief Tom Lee opened the possibility that provisions added to the Seminole Compact to placate the state’s pari-mutuels were a “ransom” that tanked the legislation.

Lee, the Brandon Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, spoke to reporters after his panel finished its Tuesday meeting.

As the meeting began that morning, he announced the Compact and related legislation wouldn’t be heard by the committee.

“There are a lot of different factions in the Legislature,” Lee later told reporters.

“Some people view what I call the ‘wealth redistribution’ bill, which is the ransom being demanded by the industry to pass a Compact, as untenable,” he said. “That’s because it results in a massive, historically large expansion of gambling in Florida.”

A House panel Monday cleared provisions benefiting horse and dog tracks, expanding their ability to offer slots and cards.

But the Seminole Tribe of Florida viewed that as competition to their casinos across the state, where they hold exclusive rights to offer blackjack.

“It wouldn’t be economically feasible for the tribe,” Barry Richard, the tribe’s Tallahassee-based outside counsel, said earlier Tuesday.

Lee went on, explaining that another group of lawmakers “believe we should let the litigation work itself out.”

A Gadsden County case, before the Florida Supreme Court, was brought by the operators of a racetrack in Gretna, who say they should be allowed to offer slot machines because voters approved them in a local referendum in 2012.

The ultimate question before the justices is whether slot machines are allowed at all outside South Florida in areas where voters have already OK’d them. Six counties have done so: Brevard, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, and Washington.

Added Lee: “And then you have folks that are trying to broker a deal to get something done,” a reference to the Legislature’s point men on gambling: state Sen. Rob Bradley and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

“There’s not enough people in any one of those groups to pass a piece of legislation,” Lee said. “So we’ll see if there’s something to work out.”

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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