Seminole Tribe Looks For Opening In Gambling Talks

March 19, 2015

The Poarch Creek Indians are not the only tribe Gov. Rick Scott isn’t talking with.  The Poarch Creeks want to talk to the governor about a gaming compact to allow casino gaming on their own acre of property in North Escambia and perhaps other sites including Pensacola and Jacksonville.

The Seminoles currently have a compact that’s expiring in place with the state, and Scott isn’t dealing with either, according to a new report.

In the latest hand in a public game of poker between the Legislature and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, tribal leaders provided a glimpse Wednesday into behind-the-scenes negotiations — or lack of negotiations — on renewing a lucrative part of a $1 billion gambling deal with the state.

As they have in recent weeks, the tribe’s representatives were in Tallahassee to “educate legislators” about a portion of the 2010 deal scheduled to expire in mid-July. The deal, called a compact, gives the Seminoles the exclusive rights to operate banked card games, such as blackjack, at most of its casinos.

In a rare, sit-down interview Wednesday, tribal leaders — general counsel Jim Shore, Seminole Gaming Chief Executive Officer Jim Allen and tribal councilman Andrew Bowers — met with reporters from The News Service of Florida and the Herald/Times capital bureau. (NorthEscambia.com is a News Service of Florida member.)

A $116 million annual payment the Seminoles gives the state in exchange for being the only gambling operators to offer the lucrative card games will shrivel up if lawmakers don’t act before the legislative session ends May 1, unless a special session is held to deal with the issue over the summer.

An attempt by Gov. Rick Scott to strike a new deal with the tribe blew up in the final days of the legislative session last year.

The tribe has not had any communication with Scott since January, when the governor’s office told the tribe that legislators would be handling this year’s talks, according to Shore.

Three weeks into the 60-day session, discussions have been informal at best.

“We don’t know what negotiation means. We’re talking to legislators, trying to educate them on the compact and stuff. But we haven’t had any specific person or office to negotiate directly yet,” Shore, seated at a conference table in the downtown office of tribe lobbyist Will McKinley.

Both the tribe and the Legislature are engaged in a sort of Texas Hold ‘Em contest as the deadline for the expiration of the card deal looms.

House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, early this month released an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink gambling proposal that, if approved in its current form, would effectively do away with the minimum $250 million per year guaranteed to the state by the Seminoles in the overall 20-year deal. Young’s measure would allow two Las Vegas-style casinos to open in Broward or Miami-Dade counties and would include hefty payments she contends would eclipse what the tribe now pays the state.

A week after Young floated her plan, the Seminoles, who previously have held their cards close to the vest, took to the airwaves with statewide television ads to try to convince the public and lawmakers to re-up or expand the deal inked by then-Gov. Charlie Crist five years ago. The tribe estimates that its gambling operations have had a $2.4 billion economic impact on the state and created thousands of jobs since then.

Under the existing agreement with the state, the Seminoles agreed to pay a minimum of $1 billion over five years in exchange for exclusive rights to table games at seven of its nine facilities. In addition to money from the banked card games, the tribe also makes payments to the state based on other games, such as slot machines.

The deal allows the Seminoles to halt the payments if slot machines exist anywhere outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, excluding those operated by other tribes. The tribe can also reduce its payments if South Florida pari-mutuels are allowed to have banked card games, or if slots are authorized at any facilities that weren’t already operating in Broward or Miami-Dade, except for Hialeah Race Track, when the deal was signed in 2010.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who was the Legislature’s chief negotiator on the compact in 2010, is also playing a major role in this year’s plan.

Galvano has said that that discussions should remain focused exclusively on the card games and, unlike the deal Scott struck with the Seminoles last year, not include additional games sought by the tribe, such as craps and roulette.

“We think that’s an opening position for him. Others have said similar things as to what they’re looking for. I think they even said they don’t need the money as much now as they did five years ago. So we’re hoping all of this is just posturing and once we get down to some serious talks, they will be flexible and we will be flexible on all issues of the compact,” Shore said.

Galvano hasn’t met with the tribe’s representatives, who have instead had broad discussions with Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. Bradley’s committee would be the first stop for any gaming legislation.

“I think we may have met with him once or twice, just a general conversation about what their expectations are and what ours are. Since then, we haven’t had any detailed discussions in a couple of weeks or so,” Shore said.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, who has said he supports giving the Seminoles more competition, told reporters Wednesday that his chamber will hold a workshop on Young’s bill next week.

But Allen indicated that destination resort casinos in South Florida would be a non-starter for the tribe. The Seminoles project that their payments to the state would eventually exceed $450 million annually.

“So we’re always a little bit bewildered when somebody says let’s do destinations when the state has this amazing opportunity to continue to grow their relationship with the tribe,” he said.

And he cautioned against gambling “creep” as seen in other states that opened the door to non-tribal casino gambling.

“The playbook of the casino companies is to get something approved, and then get something else approved, and then get something else approved, and then get something else approved. We’ve seen this over and over again in states like Maryland and New York. Pennsylvania’s a great example,” Allen said. “The tribe would certainly not want to be in a position where it’s committing to pay x amount of dollars and have the potential where all those particular changes of scope could happen in upcoming years.”

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Comments

6 Responses to “Seminole Tribe Looks For Opening In Gambling Talks”

  1. Blake on April 21st, 2015 12:31 pm

    Open the process up to competition. Why give it all to the Tribe? Competition is better for the gambler and the State of Florida. The Tribe wants it all …and more!

  2. Dave Davis on March 20th, 2015 12:45 pm

    If you are going to allow it one place in the State, allow it everywhere. Special treatment leads to corruption.

  3. Curious on March 20th, 2015 3:49 am

    Why is it, that everybody thinks they must gamble, try opening something for kids to stay out if trouble that doesn’t cost an arm & leg to do.

  4. Richard on March 20th, 2015 12:24 am

    It is time for the Racinos to offer the same games the Seminoles offer. The Seminoles use every trick in the book to gain an edge in their banked card games. Why not, there is no competition and they are the only game in town. One example in Blackjack is Seminole dealers hit soft 17s.

    This is a huge change in odds in favor of the house. Your unsophisticated gambler is not aware he is getting his pocket picked. Competition would minimize this kind of abuse.

    Why do the Seminoles guard with such secrecy the percentage return on slot income? Should not the public know what the slot machine percentages are?

    Why does the third largest gambling state in the union (Florida) not have a professional gaming commission?

    Significant changes must be made in fairness between the racinos and Seminoles by leveling the playing field so the gaming public gets a fair shake. If that does not change, the state should shut the Seminoles down and find other ways to make up the small monetary loss from Seminole gambling.

  5. mick on March 19th, 2015 9:23 am

    Fact is – is scott loves money his personal coffers are over flowing, and prepare yourselves Floridians this surplus budget we have will not last…it’s just a matter of time before were all paying higher prices and additional taxes again across the board.

  6. David on March 19th, 2015 8:55 am

    They already talked….now we are going to hear from the other side of where they spoke from
    Shameful when everyone knows what they really want





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