The Legislature and the Seminole Indian Tribe appear close to striking a deal to finally give Florida a portion of the proceeds from blackjack and other table games added to the Seminoles' casinos nearly two years ago. The pragmatic negotiations appear headed in the right direction. Money would be raised for education and other state needs, and left for another day would be the fight over whether Florida should allow full casinos all over the place.
Under the potential agreement, reported by the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau, the Seminoles would give the state roughly $430 million in cash immediately and another $150 million annually for the next five years. In exchange, the Seminoles would have the exclusive right to offer table games over the same period. But the Legislature could walk away from the deal after three to five years, and the Seminoles would stop their payments if lawmakers grant dog and horse tracks their longtime wish to offer the games.
For 20 years, the tribe would be the only entity allowed to operate Vegas-style slot machines outside Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Voters in those two counties already have approved slot machines for parimutuels. But the tribe's payments would stop if parimutuels in other parts of the state won the right to install slot machines.
This represents compromise on all sides. The Seminoles would not be guaranteed the long-term, statewide exclusivity they sought for table games. And the antigambling House — which has been the biggest stumbling block to a deal — would abandon its insistence that the Seminoles remove the table games.
Florida's parimutuels, which sought to capitalize on the stalemate and force a dramatic expansion of gambling, won't achieve their goal in the short term. Lawmakers do appear likely to give them a significant tax break — from 50 percent to 35 percent — so they can better compete with the Seminoles. That is a reasonable compromise.
The deal would make Florida an even friendlier state to gambling, an unfortunate trend which has been accelerating since the 2004 statewide vote that allowed South Florida parimutuels to add slot machines. Yet this would be far preferable to another alternative some frustrated House members have suggested: Opening a bidding war by the casino industry to set up shop in Florida.
It is easy to be intoxicated by the easy money the gambling industry suggests it could provide Florida, particularly as the state faces a $3.2 billion shortfall in next year's budget. But it is a business with enormous social costs. Florida doesn't need more gambling, but it does need to be compensated for the gambling that already occurs here. Given the hand the Legislature has been dealt, this potential deal is a reasonable solution.