Our governor has twice made a deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over casino gambling. The Seminoles would pay the state big bucks for the exclusive rights to run their games.
The first time Gov. Charlie Crist made this deal, in 2007, the Legislature challenged his authority in court and won. So he made a new deal that was completed a few weeks ago.
It is fair to say that the Legislature has not rushed to endorse this second deal either. Actually, it might be fair to say some folks have been using copies of it for fuel at weenie roasts.
Here are various explanations I've heard:
(1) Believe it or not, some leaders of the Legislature still have a principled concern about expanding gambling.
(2) Some lawmakers are offended that the Seminoles have already expanded their games despite the court case. (On Wednesday, House Speaker Larry Cretul asked the feds to shut down those games.)
(3) Some legislators are interested in protecting Florida's struggling (but politically powerful) dog and horse tracks against competition — and some even want to open them to casino-style gambling, which would mean no exclusive rights for the Seminoles.
(4) Here's the most cynical explanation of all: Because some legislators would like to drag the thing out into an election year so they can put the squeeze on all interested parties for campaign contributions. (Me, I would never say such a thing.)
These days, that first reason (principled opposition) is probably less important than the second (the House being ticked off by the existing games). But the third (throwing open the whole danged state to casinos) is a distinct and growing possibility.
Of course, there would be two permanent consequences to such a decision. The first is that we abandon the last shred of pretense that Florida is not a "gaming" state. Maybe that's a ridiculous pretense anyway, between our lottery and our existing casinos and card rooms and race tracks.
The second consequence is that we would be brutally sticking it to the Seminoles, after two decades of refusing to make a deal, followed by this recent two-step of the governor making deals, and the Legislature refusing to approve them. From a historical perspective, you could argue that we kind of owe those guys, you know.
The main virtue of the deal between the governor and the Seminoles is that it is a bird in the hand — at least $150 million a year for 20 years. It also actually discourages further expansion of gambling, since that would cost the state the Seminoles' money.
But if sheer money is the goal, maybe we could make more by throwing open the whole shebang.
At any rate, the Seminoles are entitled to a decision. This latest back-and-forth foot-dragging has been going on since 2007. If the House is never going to agree to blackjack and similar card games, and the Seminoles are never going to agree to give 'em up, then what's the point? Reject the thing and let the feds set the rules, without the state getting any of the dough.
But if the real agenda here is to turn Florida into a casino state — that is not something to be done through the back door, by pretending to discuss the Seminole compact. If this is the true agenda, it had better be done loudly, publicly, transparently, with advance warning trumpeted from the mountaintops.