TALLAHASSEE — The chairman of the Seminole Tribe broke his silence and vowed to oppose any effort to bring new resort casinos to Florida because they would end the tribe's gambling monopoly and breach its revenue-sharing agreement with the state.
"We will vigorously fight against any attack on our compact with the state,'' said James Billie, the chairman of the Broward County-based Seminole Tribe, in a statement. "We urge Florida legislators to step forward in support of our compact and refuse to pass any legislation that violates contractual agreements with the Seminole Tribe."
In 2010, the state entered into a compact with the Seminoles that gives the tribe the exclusive right to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games such as baccarat and blackjack in Miami-Dade and Broward counties — where the tribe faces competition from pari-mutuel "racinos" — as well as exclusive rights to operate table games and slots at tribal facilities outside the two counties, including in Hillsborough County.
In exchange, the tribe agreed to pay the state at least $1 billion over five years, beginning with two $150 million payments and increasing to $233 million in 2012. In the fifth year, the state must return to the negotiating table with the tribe over the table games.
But Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff and Rep. Erik Fresen, who drafted the current resort-casino legislation, now say it was a mistake to have given the tribe the monopoly.
The two lawmakers have filed a bill that would allow for three "destination resort" casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward. Bogdanoff, who voted for the compact with the Seminoles, said the state would be better off if it paved the way for the tribe to have competition.
"Monopolies are a bad thing. Gaming monopolies are toxic,'' Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, told reporters last week. "For the economic and political health of this state, we need to have competition in that field."
Fresen, a Republican from Miami who voted against the compact as a freshman legislator, called the compact an attempt to "buy a monopoly on the cheap."
"I never felt the compact was worth the paper it was printed on,'' he said last week. "And here's why: That compact was essentially drafted, kind of slammed down our throats … to help us with our budget shortfall.'' But it was loaded with so many provisions that it left no room for the state to allow for any competition, he said.
Since then, the state Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering, which regulates horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons, has issued two new gambling permits to a racetrack in Gadsden County and an additional jai alai permit to Magic City Casino in Miami, which operates Flagler Dog Track.
Owners of both of the permits believe that the measure allows them to apply to the state for a slot-machines permit, based on newly emerging case law, a move that would violate provisions in the tribal compact.
The compact requires that the tribe's payments be reduced if competition in Miami-Dade and Broward lowers its profits.
The tribe's statement, which was released Thursday, said it objected to Bogdanoff and Fresen's "insulting comments" and called them out for "trivializing the value of the 20-year exclusive Compact."
"I don't believe those legislators have ever read our compact,'' Billie said. "Those comments are incorrect and inappropriate. They stir up the issue, rather than explain the facts."
Seminole Tribe officials are urging state gaming regulators to move cautiously.
"Rumors and hopes of casinos seem to be exploding all over the state,'' said Tony Sanchez Jr., the tribe's president. "It is time for both the tribe and the state to protect our mutual interests, as defined by the compact."