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Clock running out on ‘grand bargain’ between state, Seminole Tribe

‘There’s not a formal exchange of offers at this point.’

Legislative leaders are in behind-the-scenes talks with the Seminole Tribe of Florida in hopes of nailing down a new gambling agreement.

There’s a lot at stake but, as in the past, time is running out before the traditional hanky drop signifying the end of the Legislative Session on May 3.

The Senate has erased from its proposed budget about $350 million in annual payments the tribe makes under a 2010 gambling agreement, known as a “compact.” A key provision of the compact that gave the tribe the “exclusive” rights to offer banked card games, such as blackjack, expired five years ago.

Siding with the Seminoles in a legal fight, a federal judge ruled in 2016 that what are known as “designated player” games offered by numerous pari-mutuel facilities throughout the state breached the tribe’s exclusivity over banked card games. Under a deal with former Gov. Rick Scott, the tribe has continued to make payments to the state.

But that agreement expires at the end of May, jeopardizing payments from the tribe.

That’s why Senate President Bill Galvano — who was a key negotiator in the 2010 deal — didn’t include the money in the upper chamber’s proposed spending plan for next fiscal year.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, who’s slated to succeed Galvano as president after the November 2020 elections, is taking the lead in gambling talks. The Trilby Republican met with a representative of the tribe this week, Galvano told reporters Wednesday.

“They’ve gone back to regroup, but there’s not a formal exchange of offers at this point,” Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said.

A gambling agreement is always a complicated endeavor. This year’s landscape includes online betting, sports betting, designated player games and other issues.

The tribe may be pushing for statewide online betting, but Galvano’s not sold.

“That issue has come up. Nobody in the Senate, certainly not myself or Chair Simpson, has agreed that online gaming is something that the tribe should have,” the president said.

Rumors had been flying in the Capitol about a do-or-die Wednesday deadline for an agreement to be reached if legislators were to vote on such a pact before they go home in May.

Galvano said “it’s getting very close” to being late in the game, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of protracted post-session deal-making.

“We’re midway through (session), but those types of negotiations are valid to continue even if we go past session and into the summer. I think if we continue to operate in good faith, as I’ve mentioned to you all in the past, there are things that are important to the tribe, and we’ll see where we go. But in an abundance of caution and in prudence, we’re not going to incorporate dollars (in the budget) at this time that aren’t guaranteed,” he said.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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