Senate Takes Its Turn Talking Seminole Gaming

Feb 17, 2016

Credit Ted Murphy

The Senate took its turn talking gaming Wednesday. Lawmakers in the Senate Regulated industries committee passed a measure that would ratify a gambling agreement between Florida and the Seminole Indian tribe along with a larger gaming measure.

Six Florida counties took up a significant chunk of the committee’s gaming discussions Wednesday. The six counties have held referendum votes supporting a move to allow slot machines at pari-mutuels in their communities. But committee chair, Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) says that could violate the proposed agreement with the tribe. Under the current compact proposal, Bradley says only a select few pari-mutuels could offer slots without violating the exclusivity agreement.

“The proposed compact permits one additional pari-mutuel location in Miami-Dade and one additional pari-mutuel location in Palm Beach with each additional facility permitted to phase in during a period of three years 750 slot machines and 750 video racing terminals with a $5.00 bet limit,” Bradley says.

Bradley says if slot machines are expanded to pari-mutuels beyond that, the $3 billion the state is expected to take in through revenue sharing over the next seven years would be significantly cut. But, Lakeland Republican Senator Kelli Stargel says it doesn’t make sense to treat pari-mutuels differently. And says the current proposal uses the compact to pick winners and losers. She has a different idea.

“It requires that the compact is deemed ratified if the following two amendments are made to the compact: The compact must be amended to provide that revenue sharing is not impacted if the legislature approves slot machines at any existing facilities in counties that have approved slot machines by referendum as of January 1st 2016 and it removes the proposed language dealing with the new slot licenses for Palm Beach and Miami Dade Counties,” Stargel says.

Under Stargel’s proposal those counties that have held referendums would be able to approach the legislature at a later date to request slot machine licenses. But some like Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) say they’d rather resolve the issue now.

“We’ve already deferred this once. As you might know I chaired a committee a few years ago and we went around the state and we had hearings and we met in four corners of the state and we debated these issues. We debated a commission. We debated the slots. We debated it all and at the end of the day it was decided to kick the can down the road to a future legislature and this is the future legislature,” Richter says.

And committee members say a measure by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart) better addresses that. Lawmakers voted against Stargel’s amendment and looked instead to the Negron amendment. The provision makes its changes in the larger gaming bill rather than the compact ratification measure.

“The first thing it does is it recognizes all prior slot machines where there has been a referendum and respects the right for new referendums to be made to authorize slot machines. It authorizes a new slot machine license in Miami Dade County, which to be clear is already in the compact so that would be the same,” Negron says.

Negron says that means pari-mutuels like Creek Entertainment in Gretna would be given slot licenses. The change also decouples greyhound and horse racing from other gambling activities at pari-mutuels. But Bradley warns Negron's plan could impact revenue sharing with the tribe.

“There’s so many moving parts because it depends on how many slot licenses you have. Ms. Baker would get into the details of all these as to whether you would offset revenue, less tribe revenue all these things,” Bradley says.

The amendment passed. Lawmakers also passed a provision that would link the gaming bill and compact ratification measure—stipulating that one cannot pass without the other. But the Senate committee stopped short of following the House procedure which put both provisions under one bill. Without that, some are worried about what could happen if both measures make it to Governor Rick Scott’s desk, but he only signs one and chooses to veto the other.