Lawmakers: Gov. Rick Scott close to deal with Seminole Tribe

Published Apr. 26, 2014

TALLAHASSEE —With a week to go before the end of the legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott's deputies are taking the pulse of legislators about their interest in coming back to ratify a compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has told House and Senate leaders that Scott is getting close to an agreement with the Seminole Tribe that would allow it to renew its exclusive right to operate some games in Florida in exchange for sharing revenue with the state.

Although details are sketchy, it appears that the proposed gambling agreement would not expand options for the state's parimutuel industry.

"The lieutenant governor said they were getting very close,'' said House Speaker Will Weatherford on Friday. "There were no specifics talked about — just that they were close."

Senate President Don Gaetz had a similar conversation and "would be interested in learning more, if negotiations are finalized,'' said Gaetz spokesman Katie Betta.

The tribe's right to operate blackjack and other card games at five of its seven Florida casinos expires next year, and the tribe wants the compact to renew those games. But the agreement must be ratified by the Florida Legislature, where Republican proponents of gaming have joined with their Democratic counterparts to push for an expansion of gambling options at Florida's parimutuels and to bring destination resort casinos to South Florida.

In addition to Lopez-Cantera, the governor's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, and his general counsel, Pete Antonacci, have spoken to lawmakers about the prospect of a special session in May to ratify the deal if an agreement is reached.

Scott spokesman Frank Collins denied that there is a deal.

Still unknown is what it would take to get an agreement through the House and Senate, where sympathies are strong for the state's parimutuel industry.

To get the votes for a compact, say many legislators, the governor will have to find a way to help Florida's gaming establishment compete with the tribe — or unify the antigambling lawmakers to support a compact that is close to the status quo. For most of his term, the governor has not been an aggressive negotiator in the face of a divided Legislature.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who supports expanded gambling, has said he will "lead the effort to defeat ratification of the compact if it's a sellout to the Indians the way the last one was.''

The strategy the governor may employ is to call the special session after he has received the budget and then hold off on his vetoes until he gets the votes to get it passed. Under that scenario, he would strategically use the power of his veto pen to help win approval from reluctant lawmakers.