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Goodbye gambling bill for 2019: ‘It’s 99% dead’

What drove the need for a bill is the possible loss of income from the Tribe.

A proposed gambling bill for the 2019 Legislative Session is dead, multiple sources told Florida Politics on Monday evening.

“I would say it’s 99% dead,” said one lawmaker who was familiar with the behind-the-scenes talks but was not authorized to speak on the record.

A second lawmaker with direct knowledge of the negotiations with the state’s varied gambling interests over the last few weeks confirmed that “the reporting is accurate.”

A representative for the Seminole Tribe, who also was not authorized to comment for attribution, said: “We haven’t been activated, so what does that tell you?”

A spokeswoman for Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, declined comment.

When asked after Monday’s floor session if the gambling bill was dead, House Speaker José Oliva said, “As usual.”

“Gambling is a comprehensive subject, and I think by the time some agreement was reached, it was a bit late in Session and so we’ll have to take it up again next year,” the Miami Lakes Republican said. The House has long been against anything that looks like an expansion of gambling.

When pressed for details about what went south, Oliva said, “We only really saw an outline (of the negotiations). I think some of the agreements were regarding what types of games could be allowed within the Tribe and there was some talk of sports (betting).

“I think we simply ran out of time,” he added. “We’re starting to meet with stakeholders again to really have an understanding of what that should look like next year if it does come back, but it’s too early to say.”

Oliva also said his “preference” would be not to have a Special Session on gambling this year.

What drove the need for a bill is the possible loss of income from the Tribe.

The Seminoles had continued paying their share of casino gambling revenue each month — $19.5 million, with occasional balloon, or “true-up,” payments — but lawmakers did not count that money in their proposed budgets for 2019-20.

An agreement for the Tribe to keep paying despite a legal right to cut off the cash flow runs out at the end of May.

Asked whether the Tribe will stop paying, Gary Bitner — a longtime spokesman for the Seminoles — said in a text message, “Not commenting tonight.”

Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican set to succeed Galvano as Senate President in 2020-22, was charged with negotiating a grand gambling bargain that would have included a renewed revenue-sharing agreement with the Tribe.

Discussions reportedly included allowing the Tribe to add craps and roulette, while giving the pari-mutuels the ability to offer sports betting. It would have been run through the Tribe to avoid a new constitutional prohibition on expanded gambling.

But the Tribe reportedly also didn’t back down on its desire to get rid of the tracks’ designated player games, a poker-blackjack hybrid that has proved lucrative for card rooms.

The Tribe has long complained the games play too much like blackjack, for which the Tribe pays the state dearly for exclusive rights to offer it at their Hard Rock-branded casinos.

That complaint resulted in a federal lawsuit the Tribe won, allowing them to continue offering blackjack without having to pay the state. The Tribe has been paying, however, in a show of good faith.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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