Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Is Florida gambling deal on a back burner?

TALLAHASSEE — Though they're raising fees and taxes to fill a budget hole, state lawmakers appear likely to reject at least $355 million from gambling interests because they're struggling to find common ground.

The only major agreement so far: backtrack on Gov. Charlie Crist's call to earmark any gaming proceeds for schools.

Instead, the Senate president and House speaker privately agreed this week that any money from a gambling deal will go into savings — a sign insiders interpret to mean lawmakers are prepared to finish the legislative session without an agreement on gambling expansion in Florida.

"It's going to be a very, very hard lift," said Senate President Jeff Atwater late Wednesday. "In the end, the state could press on without closure at this moment."

Separating the gaming money from education divorces the issue from the must-pass state budget. And that makes gambling proposals more likely to die in the antigaming Florida House.

"If we can't agree, it doesn't blow up the budget," said Rep. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and vice chair of the negotiating committee.

Also, if the gambling cash is no longer tied to school funding, it is easier for gambling opponents to vote against the measure.

Crist has worked hard to link gambling to education. He told reporters at a Miami school last week that gambling could "put more money into education."

He raised the point again Wednesday, pledging support for a new gambling permit to allow the reopening of Hialeah Park race track, an issue pushed by Hialeah Republican Rep. Steve Bovo. The mere news of the race track reopening brought 4,800 people to the park seeking employment, Bovo said.

"We'll work hard on Hialeah," Crist said. "I promise."

But Crist's work on the Seminole gambling deal has yielded mixed results. Last week, Crist joined with the Seminole Tribe to offer a plan to provide $1.1 billion in cash over two years, and at least another $1.5 billion over 23 years. Legislators rejected it immediately.

Asked about his concerns that the gaming money will no longer supplement education, Crist said he just wanted to make sure Florida gets a share of gambling money if possible.

"I try to stay out of the weeds on those kind of things," Crist said. "I just want to get the big picture done."

Crist's original plan — to give the tribe Las Vegas-style slot machines, blackjack and other banked card games in return for at least $100 million a year for 25 years — was invalidated by the courts last year because banked card games are illegal in Florida.

But after months of negotiations, the House and Senate remain widely divided on how to approach the Seminole gambling agreement while also considering appeals by race tracks and jai alai frontons around the state for more gambling options to better compete with the tribe's growing gaming empire.

Without the gambling issue as a sticking point, negotiations on the more than $65 billion budget sped along Wednesday. The budget raises $930 million in cigarette taxes, $800 million in other fees and taxes and raids trust funds to boost reserves to $1.7 billion. The reserves will decrease if there's no gaming deal.

The House wants to raise a total of $355 million by giving the Seminole Tribe the exclusive operation of slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The House proposal would halt blackjack and other house-banked card games and would give parimutuels outside South Florida expanded pot limits on poker.

The House also would revive the now-shuttered Hialeah track by allowing it to run quarter horse races and eventually thoroughbred racing. Quarter horse racing permit holders would also be able to operate card rooms.

The Senate would raise $505 million by expanding gambling in every area of the state.

The Seminoles would get craps and roulette. South Florida tracks would get blackjack, and parimutuels elsewhere would get bingo-style slot machines.

Both chambers have agreed to give the parimutuel industry a 15 percent tax break.

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@ MiamiHerald.com.

Watch Howard Troxler and Dan Ruth discuss the issues before the Florida Legislature.

Is Florida gambling deal on a back burner? 04/29/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 4, 2009 3:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Controversial landfill site could be rechristened as industrial recruiting land in Pasco

    Economic Development

    The east Pasco property of Angelo's Aggregate Materials, which failed to obtain a state environmental permit to be developed as a garbage landfill, is being studied as a potential 1,000-acre mega site for industrial recruitment.

  2. Joe Henderson: At son's wedding, memories of child-rearing build to a perfect moment

    Columns

    On a secluded beach known as Hawksnest on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a bride-to-be named Heather McNeill hurried along a wooded path to meet the man she was about to marry.

    Heather McNeill married fellow Strawberry Crest High teacher Ben Henderson on a secluded beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands. "They wanted something totally theirs," says Ben's dad Joe Henderson. "I think they had their parents in mind, as well." [Courtesy of Henderson family]
  3. Forecast: Near record-high temperatures, minimal rain in store for Tampa Bay

    Weather

    Tampa Bay residents can expect a significantly hot Wednesday — possibly record-breaking — and a small chance of pop up showers.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  4. Marriott opening new hotel on Clearwater Beach

    Tourism

    CLEARWATER BEACH — A dual-branded Marriott hotel with a tongue-twister name is opening on Clearwater Beach in August. The Residence Inn Tampa Clearwater Beach and SpringHill Suites Tampa Clearwater Beach will have 255 suites total, connected by a lobby.

    A dual-branded Marriott hotel called the Residence Inn Tampa Clearwater Beach and SpringHill Suites Tampa Clearwater Beach will open in August in Clearwater Beach. Pictured is a rendering.
[Courtesy of Hayworth PR]