Answering a $3 billion question, Senate President Joe Negron Tuesday said he backed passage next session of a renewed gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
But Negron also said he was comfortable with related initiatives gambling opponents have said constitute an expansion of gambling in the Sunshine State.
For instance, regarding counties that pass local referendums to allow slot machines, the Stuart Republican said he would “personally feel obligated to defer to that.”
“We also need to be fair to other participants in the gaming industry, the pari-mutuels and others, to make sure that they’re treated fairly,” he said.
That doesn’t square with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who on Monday said “we’re a very conservative chamber, and if something is going to pass it will have to be conservative. It’s going to have to be a reduction in gambling.”
Negron countered: “I’m optimistic that we can work together with our colleagues in the House and ratify a compact so the state has predictability in revenue.”
The state and tribe struck a long-term deal in 2010 that included a provision, which expired last year, giving the Seminoles exclusive rights to offer blackjack for five years. That equated to more than $200 million per year.
Gov. Rick Scott and tribal representatives then agreed on a new deal for continued rights to blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state.
But that agreement couldn’t even get to either floor for a vote last session; it contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette — that is, more games.
Some lawmakers also tacked on measures to help pari-mutuels — horse and dog tracks — giving slot machines and card games to more of them outside South Florida. With many legislators averse to expanding gambling, the compact died.
The tribe’s fortunes changed this month, when a federal judge ruled it can continue to offer blackjack and other “banked card games,” without having to pay the state a dime.
Judge Robert Hinkle agreed the state reneged on the original deal, meaning the tribe can have blackjack until 2030 at its Hard Rock Casinos across the state, including the marquee Tampa location.
“You have to get a plan through the committee process and onto the floor for a vote, and then people can vote as they choose,” Negron said. Historically, “we don’t get far along in the process for everyone’s view to be heard.”
Duval voters expressed their view on gambling this month, passing a referendum to approve slot machines at bestbet Jacksonville. Other counties have OK’d slots in past years, apart from a 2004 constitutional amendment that allowed slots in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
“I think we need to acknowledge the will of the voters,” Negron said.