Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Seminole Tribe halts $350 million annual casino payment to Florida

The Tribe hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, saying that it will stop paying the state of Florida while the state and the Tribe settle a years-long dispute over multiplayer games.
The Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel. [Tampa Bay Times]
Published May 14
Updated May 14

TALLAHASSEE -- The Seminole Tribe has notified the state that it will stop its $350 million annual casino payments to Florida effective immediately.

The tribe hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, saying that it will stop paying the state of Florida while the state and the Tribe settle a years-long dispute over multiplayer games.

“The Tribe will follow its agreement with the State and suspend its revenue share payments until the illegal banked card game issue is resolved,” Tribal Council Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. wrote. “The Tribe and the State have enjoyed a good relationship and we are hopeful that we will be able to reach an agreement that will strengthen that relationship for many years to come.”

Osceola was re-elected as chairman the day before the letter was delivered. He will start another four-year term in June.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Bill Galvano, who has led gambling deals with the tribe for his entire legislative career, said the news “comes as no surprise to the Senate” and will not impact the recently passed budget. The budget did not include appropriations for the Tribe this year.

“The tribe made it clear that payments would end after session,” Katie Betta wrote in an email. “For this reason, President Galvano made the decision in March to take the payments from the tribe out of the budget. “

She added that DeSantis will review the issue this summer, and that the Senate stands “ready to assist as needed.”

Under the current settlement made with former Gov. Rick Scott, the tribe has paid about $350 million a year to the state. But that agreement expires at the end of May.

Late in this year’s legislative session there was talk of allowing the Tribe to have rights over sports betting, which would have greatly increased state revenue. But a deal didn’t materialize before the end of the legislative session, and lawmakers said they ran out of time.

They had hoped to strike a 31-year deal with the tribe known as a “compact,” which would open the door for betting at Florida racetracks and jai-alai courts. But the specifics of the deal came together too late in the session, and they adjourned without coming to an agreement.

DeSantis told reporters after the session ended that he ran out of time.

“It is a 31-year commitment to the state. There is no way I could have done that,” he said. “The Senate leadership negotiated, which they have the right to do, but I’m the chief negotiator for the state so I’m going to look at ways we can get the best deal for Florida. I’d like to get an agreement and we’ll work on it and maybe we can get something done by the time they come back in September.”

John Lockwood, a lawyer who represents many of the state’s pari-mutuel facilities, said the tribe’s decision was “bizarre.” It has one of the best deals in the country when it comes to these issues, he said.

“They are making billions of dollars a year. They go to the Legislature to make the deal even better and when they don’t get their way, they decide to spit in the face of the executive branch,” he said. “It’s a pretty bold move on their part. I’m not sure what their end game is.”

Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat whose district includes the Seminole Tribe’s headquarters and Hard Rock Casino, said he could have guessed the tribe would back out eventually. Jenne said they’ve acted in good faith for years but grew frustrated with waiting on a deal that never happened.

“They’ve grown tired of being jerked around and being used for Republican campaign coffers,” Jenne said. “They’ve been used and abused by Republican leadership in the executive branch and legislative branch for campaign money only to not have anything reciprocated when it comes to signing the compact.”

Jenne said the $350 million hole will be felt, and that a lot of a “good, necessary programs” could face the chopping block in future budget years. He said he would support the governor’s calling a special session to come up with a compact, especially since he blames leadership for not acting quickly enough.

“This falls at the feet of leadership. This their fault. Period. The end. It’s a complete failure,” he said. “When you treat someone very poorly over that period of time, eventually it’s going to come to a point of no return. I certainly don’t blame the tribe.”

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talks to reporters in Tampa on Aug. 21. Delays in his filling vacancies on the state's five water management district boards have twice led to those agencies canceling meetings to levy taxes and set budgets, which one expert said was unprecedented. OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times
    Vacancies lead to canceling two agencies’ budget meetings.
  2. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  3. Richard Swearingen, Florida's Commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, testifies before state lawmakers on Monday. Florida Channel
    But law enforcement officials are getting behind a “threat assessment system.”
  4. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  5. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  6. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  7. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  8. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  9. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  10. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement