1. Florida Politics

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs new gambling compact with Seminole Tribe

Luis Santana  |   Times (6/15/2012,Tampa, FL)   Hotel guests as well as the general public are invited to enjoy the newly remodeled Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino pool.[Luis Santana | TBT]
Luis Santana | Times (6/15/2012,Tampa, FL) Hotel guests as well as the general public are invited to enjoy the newly remodeled Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino pool.[Luis Santana | TBT]
Published Dec. 8, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — After months of negotiations, Gov. Rick Scott quietly signed a compact with the Seminole Tribe late Monday that will generate nearly $3 billion in added revenue to the state over seven years in exchange for the exclusive right to operate blackjack and add craps and roulette.

The 20-year deal also allows the Legislature to open the door for parimutuels to operate new slots casinos in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and allows the existing South Florida racinos to seek voter approval to operate limited blackjack tables.

"With a $3 billion guarantee (over the first seven years) along with a cap on the tribe's gaming, it is my hope that this compact can be the foundation of a stable and predictable gaming environment for the state of Florida," Scott wrote in a letter to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner on Monday. "My execution of this compact is the first step in the process outlined in law, and I look forward to continuing to work with you and your respective chambers this session in order to ratify this $3 billion historic agreement."

The agreement must now win approval from the House and Senate, which are required to ratify the deal. The lead negotiator for the Senate said Monday that he was optimistic.

"I think it's a good, fair deal for the people of the state of Florida," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who worked with Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, in the House to hammer out details of the deal with the governor's office and representatives of the tribe.

Key to the deal, however, will be a companion measure that will spell out the expanded licenses offered to facilities in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, as well as a first-ever contraction of parimutuel licenses in other parts of the state. Among those provisions will be debates over whether legislators want to grant blackjack to the existing parimutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in return for losing the revenue from the tribe from its blackjack operations, whether it will lower the tax on parimutuels to 25 percent, decouple dog and horse racing from other gaming operations, and allow parimutuels outside of South Florida to operate a card game called "designated player games."

"I don't see one bill without the other," Bradley said of the companion bills.

But the measure also opens the door to expanded gaming, especially in South Florida, where the Malaysian company Genting has said it wants to build a full casino resort on Biscayne Bay on the former site of the Miami Herald building. Under the compact, the tribe would continue to make payments even in the face of increased competition from a new Miami or Broward slots casino. The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach is also likely to compete for the slots license.

The tribe will be able to offer banked card games at all seven of its reservations, adding Big Cypress and Brighton to the five casinos that are currently authorized in the five-year deal that expired in July. The tribe previously wanted to open a new casino on its Fort Pierce lands, but that was not allowed in this agreement.

Absent from the agreement was any provision to allow for slot machines to be operated at the dog track in Bonita Springs, near Fort Myers, and in Gretna, west of Tallahassee, without violating the terms of the compact. Both communities had held local voter referendums and won approval to operate slot machines, and both were hoping the compact would give them the same provisions as Palm Beach.

The proposal replaces a provision of the legal agreement, known as a compact, signed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010 that gave the Seminole Tribe the exclusive use of banked card games at five of its casinos in exchange for revenue payments of about $100 million a year to the state. That provision expired July 31 and this proposal extends the deal 20 more years and imposes a cap on the amount of gaming that can be offered by the tribe.

Under the old agreement, the tribe agreed to pay at least $234 million a year in exchange for the exclusive right to operate slot machines at four casinos outside of Miami-Dade and Broward. The new agreement starts with a minimum guarantee of revenue to the state at $325 million a year in the first and rises to $550 million in the seventh year.

"The bottom line is it's a significant increase in revenue-sharing with the tribe," Bradley said.

Scott's letter also predicts the tribe will spend $1.8 billion in capital investment and create 4,800 direct jobs.

The tribe, however, did agree to limit the number of slot machines to 3,000 at each of its seven casinos, as well as 150 banked card games and table games at each of the facilities.

One of the unanswered questions is what impact the issue of fantasy sports leagues will have on the compact. Although the compact is silent as to daily fantasy sports leagues, the decision opens the door to the prospect that the tribe's payments cease if the state changes the law to allow for "Internet gaming involving wagering." Gardiner told the Times/Herald in an interview Monday that he considers the move by some legislators to regulate fantasy sports leagues a slippery slope that will lead to Internet gaming in Florida.