Lawmakers landed on final numbers Tuesday for the share of local fees being sent to several South Florida cities under the new Gaming Compact legislation.
The state collects money from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and 3% of that revenue is sent to local governments impacted by nearby gaming facilities. Those impacts can include things like police and fire services, managing roads connected to the casino and maintaining sewer lines.
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood is one such facility in Broward County. Under current law, Hollywood receives 55% of the local government share from that venue, while Davie and Dania Beach receive 10% each. The remaining 25% goes to Broward County.
On Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Lauren Book of Plantation filed an amendment altering the share for Hollywood and Davie. Hollywood’s pot — which currently nets the city around $1 million per year — would drop from 55% to 42.5%. That chunk will go to Davie, raising its share from 10% to 22.5%. The numbers for Broward County and Dania Beach would remain unaffected.
The Senate approved that amendment Tuesday morning, and the House Select Committee on Gaming has also signed off on the change. Should that language remain in the final legislative package, it would settle a contentious sticking point that arose as lawmakers gathered in Tallahassee for this week’s Special Session on the new Compact.
Book, whose district spans Davie, argued the original deal saw local fees split up in an “arbitrary” manner.
“What we have learned is that Davie had a significantly greater impact that what those original percentages accounted for,” Book argued during debate on the amendment. She originally pushed for Hollywood’s share to be cut to 40%, and several other potential shifts were discussed as well before lawmakers eventually landed on the latest numbers.
Sen. Book’s father, Ron Book, represented Davie in negotiations. “While there is continuing dialogue going on, I think we’ve landed in a pretty fair place,” he said.
Davie officials have lobbied for a larger share, arguing their emergency response services respond to accidents on roads near the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
“A lot of those calls are related to the Hard Rock traffic,” Davie Council member Susan Starkey said, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “We reviewed the data for tickets, accidents and calls for service and found that Davie was only getting 10% (of the local fees) and yet we had the lion’s share of all the calls for service.”
When discussing the changes Monday in the House, Democratic Rep. Marie Woodson opposed dropping Hollywood’s local fee share. The city of Hollywood sits in House District 101, which Woodson represents.
“A big cut like this would mean reduced services and crime rates and everything would go up,” Woodson argued. “Every single dollar is important.”
Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer of Lighthouse Point, who was ousted last month as Democratic Leader and replaced with Book, also opposed the changes.
“The fact of the matter is we have these impact fees because cities are impacted by gaming activities,” Farmer said. “They have additional services they have to provide, and Hollywood has — and will continue to provide — the vast, vast majority of those services.”
But those opposing voices were in the minority, as senators agreed to the shift Tuesday. Farmer joined in to support the bill ratifying the new compact (SB 2A). Only one Senator — GOP Sen. Jeff Brandes — voted “no” on the overall measure Tuesday.
After Thursday’s vote, Farmer also criticized Book for carrying the amendment, given her father’s role in lobbying on behalf of Davie.
“I think it was inappropriate for anybody to handle the amendment, but especially her,” Farmer said. “I think if somebody else had done the amendment, it would at least take away some of that stench.”
“I think it’s unfortunate that Sen. Farmer believes that I don’t have a job to represent my constituency and fight for them vociferously here in the Legislature,” Book said. “That’s what they sent me here to do. And so it’s unfortunate that he wants to put his hurt feelings about some of the other things that have gone on here in the way of policymaking.”