When a House committee met to debate and vote on a 30-year agreement about new state gaming laws, the meeting was hijacked for more than an hour by discussion over local fee distribution stemming from the agreement.
“It’s embarrassing to be sitting here in Tallahassee where we have 412 cities in this state, 67 counties, but one can’t seem to get there,” Rep. Chip LaMarca said during debate.
The agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state, more often referred to as a “compact,” stipulates 3% of the payments the Tribe makes to the state is to go to the local governments affected by the Tribe’s gaming operations.
The outsized discussion about local fees, which historically has amounted to about $1 million per year for Hollywood, the municipality with the issue, would be just one part of a deal worth around $500 million per year.
The discord wasn’t enough to hold up the Compact’s approval. By the end of the meeting the House Select Subcommittee on the Seminole Gaming Compact approved the bill (HB 1A) to implement the Compact and an amendment dealing with the local fees.
But it seems clear the city of Hollywood, in this new agreement, is going to see its fees reduced from the current amount, which is 55%, but how much is up for debate.
Co-Sponsor of the bill, Rep. Sam Garrison, offered an amendment to rejigger the local fees distributed in the Compact. Garrison’s amendment would give Hollywood 40% of the local fees.
Rep. Marie Woodson, who represents Hollywood, offered an amendment to the amendment to give Hollywood 55% of the fees.
Woodson argued the city of Hollywood is intertwined with the Seminole Tribe Reservation and should receive a larger share of the current allotted local payments.
“A big cut like this would mean reduced services and crime rates and everything would go up,” Woodson. “Every single dollar is important.”
Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy said the city would compromise down to 50%.
“There’s a lot of services and relationships with the Tribe and the city of Hollywood because really the reservation is within the city,” Levy said. “Even the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino identified (as being in) Hollywood.”
Levy said Davie, the city that would benefit from the fee change, is not impacted by the reservation in the same way Hollywood is. Woodson said 19 roads go from the reservation to Hollywood, compared to just one road that leads to Davie from the reservation.
But lobbyist Ron Book hit back against the claims that Davie isn’t affected enough by the Reservation activity to receive an additional allocation.
“The little town of Davie has been taking it on the chin financially for 12 years,” Book, who represents the city of Davie, said. Book said the town has responded to increased calls to law enforcement because of criminal activity stemming from casinos on the reservation.
The group voted down Woodson’s amendment and passed Garrison’s amendment, which means Hollywood is set to get 40%, but that could change. Several committee members noted there is still another committee stop and the issue could be revisited with another amendment.
“Some things in this world are universal, and that is, when there’s a pot of money that’s going to be divided between the county and municipalities, as the movie title says, there will be blood,” Garrison quipped.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the Compact with the Tribe last month.
The Tribe agreed to an addendum to the Compact Monday that removes a section that would have opened the door to online gambling in the state. House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced the addendum during the gaveling in of the Special Session Monday.
The rest of the committee meeting included an in-depth discussion of the possible court challenges to the Compact and whether or not the federal government will approve the Compact even if the Legislature ratifies it.
The state hired George Skibine, an expert on the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act, to provide guidance about the federal processes.