Monday, November 20, 2017
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott starts negotiations with Seminole Tribe over gambling compact

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE — In a sign that Gov. Rick Scott is ready to control the debate over gambling's future in Florida, the governor has begun negotiating a compact with the Seminole Tribe.

The compact, a legal agreement between the state and the tribe, was first signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and ratified by the Legislature in 2010, but parts of it expire next year. It guarantees that the tribe give the state about $234 million a year in revenue in exchange for the exclusive right to operate slot machines at four casinos outside of Miami-Dade and Broward. It also allows the tribe to operate banked card games — blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat — at the Hard Rock casinos in Tampa and near Hollywood, plus three other casinos.

The portion of the agreement that relates to table games expires Aug. 1, 2015, and Scott could negotiate now or the negotiations could wait until next year after the election.

What the governor decides to do could determine the fate of gambling in Florida. He could renew the existing agreement and little will change. He could modify it to allow more competition for the tribe — such as additional gambling at racinos in South Florida and the arrival of resort casinos — and accept less revenue from the tribe; or he could give the tribe additional games — such as roulette and craps — in return for higher guaranteed annual payments to the state treasury.

Scott would not give many details on the direction that he's headed.

"We're early, but we're in the middle of negotiating the compact," he said an exclusive interview with the Times/Herald on Tuesday. "I'm not going to talk about what we're going to do in the middle of the negotiation."

At the heart of the negotiations is the question of what to do about so-called "destination resort casinos" in South Florida. If the state allows for the Las Vegas-style casinos, sought by the Malaysia-based Genting Resorts World and the Las Vegas-based Sands Inc., the tribe can reduce its payments.

The governor, who has met privately with Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson and has received $250,000 in campaign donations from him, has never ruled out allowing the casino giants to come to Florida. He has always said he would want any expanded gambling to have local voter approval, however.

Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner confirmed that negotiations are underway.

"The Tribe looks forward to a positive outcome as a result of the negotiations,'' Bitner said.

The current agreement has been tremendously successful for both the Seminoles and the state.

The tribe, a sovereign nation which cannot be forced to pay taxes, has used the agreement to operate a monopoly on slot machines games outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. That arrangement has help the tribe turn its Tampa-based Hard Rock casino into one of the most profitable in the country.

The arrangement also has been good to Florida's treasury. This month, the tribe's payments are expected to reach $1 billion guaranteed over five years, more than a year ahead of schedule, said Barry Richard, a Tallahassee lawyer for the Seminoles who helped to negotiate the 2010 compact.

Under terms of the current compact, the tribe will continue payments, estimated at about $248 million next year, and will have exceeded payments to the state by the time one section of the compact expires in 2015.

As part of the complicated agreement, the tribe must pay additional money if revenues exceed certain thresholds. So as the tribe's revenues increase, its payments to the state will also increase.

There is no indication when the governor and tribe expect to finish negotiations.

"Everybody would like to get it settled as quickly as possible,'' Richard said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders appear ready to put any discussion of expanded gaming on hold for a few weeks as the governor continues his talks.

The House released its gaming bill Monday, proposing an overhaul of state regulations but refraining from authorizing any additional casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

A key part of the bill was that it does not expand gambling and therefore does not violate the compact, said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

"Our bill is more of a contraction on gaming than any type of expansion," he said.

The Senate, however, has proposed a similar rewrite of gaming regulations but has proposed legislation that would create two new resort casinos.

Weatherford has said the House will not support additional gaming unless the governor completes a compact and voters approve a constitutional amendment in November. The amendment would require statewide voter approval for future gambling expansion.

The Seminoles have been generous to the political committees of lawmakers. They have given the governor's political committee, Let's Get to Work, $500,000 in contributions and they have given legislators and the Republican Party of Florida nearly $500,000 more.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

Comments
2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A second woman has accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching.Lindsay Menz tells CNN that Franken placed his hand on her bottom as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, two years into Fran...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s tourism chiefs at Visit Florida spend a lot of public money taking trips to exotic places to promote Florida as a top worldwide destination.Four former top-level staff members at the state’s tourism promotion and its c...
Published: 11/20/17
As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is willing to remove a contentious provision taking aim at the Affordable Care Act from the GOP tax overhaul plan if politically necessary, a move ...
Published: 11/19/17

Many Christian conservatives are backing Alabama’s Roy Moore

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama’s Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn’t fit the evangelical mold. ...
Published: 11/19/17
Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

WASHINGTON — It’s been nearly six years since the Senate Ethics Committee conducted a major investigation of a sitting senator. Next year, the panel could be working nonstop, deciding the fate of up to three lawmakers, including two facing allegation...
Published: 11/18/17
Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners recently decided to go after the pocketbooks of several residents who filed unsuccessful ethics complaints against one of their colleagues.If history is any indicator, the maneuver is more likely to cost taxp...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/19/17
In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

UTICA, N.Y.Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath."You need a little bit more oil," the mechanic said."Five quarts wasn’t eno...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17
As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

WASHINGTON — "You can do anything," Donald Trump once boasted, speaking of groping and kissing unsuspecting women. Maybe he could, but not everyone can. The man who openly bragged about grabbing women’s private parts — but denied he really did so — w...
Published: 11/17/17
Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Standing on the white marble steps of Alabama’s Capitol, Kayla Moore surrounded herself with two dozen other women Friday to defend husband Roy Moore against accusations of sexual misconduct that are dividing Republicans, and women...
Published: 11/17/17
Franken apologizes to woman who says he kissed, groped her

Franken apologizes to woman who says he kissed, groped her

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken personally apologized to the woman who has accused him of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 USO tour, saying he remembers their encounter differently but is "ashamed that my actions ruined that ...
Published: 11/17/17