Make us your home page

Regulators worry gambling loopholes threaten $233 million from Seminole Tribe of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — State gambling regulators are in a bind.

They have indirectly authorized the expansion of gambling in the past six months as lawyers for parimutuels found holes in state laws and opened the door to slot machines at parimutuels across the state and table-game look-alikes at existing race track casinos.

Now state regulators worry that Florida's porous gambling laws also might come with a cost: the loss of the $233 million annual check from the Seminole Tribe of Florida under its gambling compact with the state.

Tuesday, lawyers for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation asked the Legislature for help in closing one of the loopholes that, they fear, threatens the compact with the tribe. They were turned away.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee voted 7-3 to kill a bill that would have given the department the authority to decide what constitutes a slot machine and would have specifically excluded copy-cat games intended to simulate roulette wheels, craps tables, blackjack and other table games at the state's parimutuels.

After the department imposed new rules on slot machines, a state hearing officer said the department did not have the authority to issue the rule.

The bill, by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, attempted to give the department the authority to issue the rule and target new games that come in "under the ruse of being defined as a slot machine," Altman said.

"We don't believe the Legislature ever authorized them,'' said Tim Nugesser, the department's lobbyist. "We believe that they may violate the compact.''

A legal opinion by the tribe's lawyers says that a Senate proposal to regulate the slot machine look-alikes will violate the compact, but the tribe is not ready to withhold its checks, said Barry Richard, one of the lawyers. If the tribe stops payment, it would also lose its monopoly right to exclusive operation of its games.

But, Richard added, the tribe believes that at Internet cafes around the state, "These are slot machines.''

"They are proliferating at a rapid rate," Richard said. "They are competing with the tribe, and they are illegal."

Under the 2010 compact signed by the state and the Seminoles, the tribe has the exclusive right to operate slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties or it can withhold payments to the state.

But the committee agreed with lawyers for the company that makes the games that they operate like slot machines, even though they look like Las Vegas table games.

Meanwhile, with the House and Senate at odds over how to handle the Internet cafes, and the tribe choosing not to challenge the existing law, few expect much to change this session.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas.

Regulators worry gambling loopholes threaten $233 million from Seminole Tribe of Florida 02/07/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 9, 2012 11:12am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is being asked to help the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board get $500,000 from the state so it can stay open beyond February.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  3. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members


    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  4. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  5. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]