On Thursday, the House Gaming Control Subcommittee workshopped various gambling issues, including a discussion of the faltering Seminole Compact.
Lou Trombetta, Director of the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, addressed the accord with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, a central tenet of Florida gambling that has lapsed.
“As of May last year, the tribe stopped paying … $25 million a month. The tribe has not paid since May of last year,” Trombetta said.
Rep. Randy Fine questioned whether the tribe could offer Class III gaming — a federal designation that includes blackjack, slot machines and sports betting — without those compacts going both ways, and Trombetta said that, while not a legal scholar, he shares that read.
Fine also questioned why the Seminoles have exclusivity when the vast majority of compacts around the country do not.
Engagement between the Tribe and the state has been scant: a meeting in early October, but it was not substantial.
“What good is the compact today … without payments,” asked Rep. David Santiago, who chairs the committee.
“It’s still in effect to some extent, but to what extent is an open question,” Trombetta said. “They allow my team to go in and conduct business.”
In 2009, the tribe signed a deal with Florida that provides a revenue sharing agreement. The Seminole Compact was paying the state somewhere north of $340 million annually, or about 12.5% of their gross gaming revenues.
However, it doesn’t appear movement on restoring that revenue stream is imminent.
The Seminole Compact discussion kicked off a larger talk about the post-Amendment 13 world of casino gambling.
Amendment 13 allowed dog tracks to phase out racing and still have gambling.
Carey Theil of GREY2K USA noted that race tracks are phasing out in a “staggered” way, allowing for gradual adoptions of the animals, with 200 fewer than a year ago.
“In places where greyhound racing is ending, we’re seeing positives,” Theil said, including redevelopment of facilities into affordable housing or mixed-use retail.
Michael Glenn, of Palm Beach Kennel Club, vowed to “keep racing until the end.”
“We’re going to lose 70 to 80 jobs,” Glenn said, once the racing is phased out.
“We’re looking for anything and everything to keep us in business … once Amendment 13 goes into effect,” Glenn urged.
Peter Berube, of Tampa Bay Downs, said “Amendment 3 really cut the legs out” of his horse track.
“Purse enhancements,” a factor of casino gambling that sweetens the pot at dozens of other tracks, are not allowed for Berube’s casino.
“It’s going to be a challenge in the future,” Berube warned.
John Sowinski, of the anti-gambling “No Casinos” group, says that most people just want to “hold the line” on gambling.
However, with existential challenges afflicting the high-powered and lobbied-up gambling industry, expect aggressive moves to preserve revenue streams.
Designated player games, central to some industry revenue streams, are a sticking point for the Seminole Compact, Sowinski said.
Jamie Shelton of bestbet, whose facility has those games, said giving up designated player games for $350 million is a “bad deal.”
“Designated player games have been played in Florida since 2012,” Shelton noted. “Don’t be punitive toward us … for the benefit of one group.”
Isadore Havenick of the Magic City Casino agreed.
“None of us should be penalized so that they could benefit,” Havenick said. “For them to give you pennies on the dollar and just put us out of business is insane.”
John Sowinski of No Casinos noted that legislators will see “creative ways to push the limit or get around Amendment 3,” which requires voter approval to expand gambling.
A veteran Tallahassee hand on this issue, it’s hard to see him being wrong.