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A Times Editorial

Gambling deal gets the job done

Florida has more than enough gambling. Ideally, it would have less. But the compromise the Florida Legislature is expected to vote on today appears to expand gambling in a measured way. It is not an ideal solution, but it is a practical one.

The complex plan combines a proposed new deal with the Seminole Indian Tribe with new moneymaking options for the state's beleaguered parimutuel industry. Thanks to the anti-gambling House, the plan falls far short of the Senate's original proposal that envisioned full-scale casinos for the Seminoles, electronic gaming at all parimutuels statewide and a legal gambling age of 18, down from 21. The proposal is also a bit stricter and more lucrative for the state than the compact Gov. Charlie Crist signed with the Seminoles in 2007. That compact was ruled invalid by the Florida Supreme Court because it was not approved by the Legislature, but the Seminoles already have installed the additional games.

Under the new compromise, parimutuels would have no-limit poker and expanded cardroom hours. It opens the door a crack to parimutuels statewide offering Vegas-style slot machines, but fortunately that would require both the Legislature and local voters to approve.

The proposal also makes it more economically viable to run quarter horse races. The plan would allow quarter horse permit holders to run fewer races each year, broadcast races for simulcast betting, immediately open cardrooms, and run races at night — a time slot that's been limited to dog tracks. But in practical terms, there are expected to be no more than two new parimutuel venues. Voters in Gadsden County north of Tallahassee already have approved a plan for a quarter horse venue there. And the proposal would make it viable to reopen the Hialeah Race Track in Miami-Dade County.

The plan gives Crist until the end of August to negotiate a new compact with the Seminoles, but with less generous terms for the tribe than before. Crist in 2007 had given the tribe exclusive rights to offer banked card games such as blackjack at their seven locations for 25 years in exchange for a minimum $100 million payment. The legislative compromise would limit the card games to the tribe's three locations in Broward and one location in Hillsborough — meaning the tribe wouldn't have card games at its facility in Immokalee in Collier County, where it recently spent $22 million on an expansion. The tribe would have the exclusivity for just 15 years, and it must give the state at least $150 million annually.

The outline of this compromise is far from perfect. It will require many lawmakers to hold their nose to vote for it. And it is still predicated on the Seminoles signing on to the deal. But the alternative is to continue a stalemate between the Seminoles, who are raking in gambling cash, and the state, which is receiving nothing in return. This limbo cannot last forever, and this compromise appears to be a reasonable way to move forward.

Gambling deal gets the job done 05/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 7:25pm]
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