October 05, 2016

Genting pursues marina plan on Miami Herald site without resort

via @AndresViglucci

Malaysian casino operator Genting, which has been pursuing plans for a marina for large yachts at the old Miami Herald property on Biscayne Bay, got a boost when the Miami River Commission endorsed the idea this week.

The commission, which has no approval power but advises local governments on development along the river, voted to support the marina plan 10-1 after a presentation from a Genting attorney on Monday. The plan also envisions that Genting would build a new public baywalk between the Venetian and MacArthur causeways.

Genting sought commission support because it is asking Miami-Dade County environmental regulators to approve the transfer of 42 existing boat slips from two river marinas to the bay. A county manatee-protection plan strictly controls construction of powerboat slips in the river and bay to protect the endangered marine mammals and their habitat.

The formal hearing was the first public confirmation by Genting, which bought the Herald property in 2011 for $236 million and announced plans for a massive casino resort on the site, that it intends to pursue approval for the 50-slip marina independently of development on dry land. The marina and baywalk were both part of Genting’s original vision for the property.

The company, which has been unsuccessful in persuading the Florida Legislature to approve gambling on the site, has said in the past that it still intended to build a hotel there, although without a casino. Genting has never submitted any plans to that effect to the city, however.

But Genting did submit marina plans to the county, and in July followed up with a letter proposing the slip transfers, prompting speculation that it was proceeding with that proposal without the resort piece. That’s something Genting attorney Spencer Crowley confirmed at the hearing. Story here. 

June 07, 2016

Justices wade into murky waters of gaming law to hear fight over expanding slots

Barrel racerDid the Florida Legislature quietly intend to allow counties to expand slot machines anywhere in the state in 2010 when it modified a statute that was initially intended to allow Hialeah Race Course to operate slot machines?

That was the question before the Florida Supreme Court Tuesday as owners for Gretna Racing argued that the rural racetrack should be allowed to install slot machines because it is has the approval of county voters.

"This is likely the easiest case you're going to deal with today,'' said Marc Dunbar, lawyer, lobbyist and part-owner of Gretna Racing, on the same day the court heard arguments on the death penalty. "It will turn on the interpretation of a single word: after."

But Jonathan Williams, deputy solicitor general for the state, disagreed. He said the case relies on more than grammar and semantics and urged the court to uphold a First District Court of Appeal decision which voted 2-1 to reject Gretna's slots license because the Legislature did not authorize slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward.

"You either have to get the constitutional authorization or the legislative authorization,'' Williams told the court, and Gretna had neither.

If the court sides with Gretna, it could usher in the explosive growth of gambling across the state as at least five other counties — Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington — have already voted to bring casinos to their stressed horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons. It would also invalidate the $120 million-a-year gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Justice Barbara Pariente opened the questioning by suggesting that the ruling might not be as easy as Dunbar suggested.

Continue reading "Justices wade into murky waters of gaming law to hear fight over expanding slots" »

October 26, 2015

Seminole Tribe sues the state as 'insurance ' despite reporting 'significant progress' in gaming talks

CasinoAfter weeks of intense negotiations with the Gov. Rick Scott and legislators, the Seminole Tribe of Florida broke its silence Monday and reported that "significant progress" is underway to renew its gaming compact with the state but also filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the state of not negotiating in "good faith" -- just in case things don't work out.

"The Tribe believes that a legislative solution would be in the best interest of the State and the Tribe,'' the tribe said in a statement Monday, after filing a lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee. It added, however, that the lawsuit was necessary "in order to protect its interests and those of the 3,100 employees and their families whose jobs are in jeopardy."  Download Seminole Complaint (1)

The Tribe, which owns the Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood, faces an Oct. 29 deadline to quit operating table games -- blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat -- at five of its seven casinos  because a key provision of the 2010 compact that allows the tribe to operate the games in exchange for payments to the state expired at the end of July.

The agreement remains in force until the end of the month but both the compact, and the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, give the Tribe the right to seek court intervention in the face of a dispute with the state.

Despite ongoing talks, the lawsuit alleges the state is not negotiated in good faith because it has demanded modifications to the remaining provisions of the compact "to substantially increase the Tribe’s payments to the State...without a proportionate increase in economic benefit to the Tribe."

The Tribe has argued that the state has breached the compact by allowing look-alike table games, operating off slot-machine software, to be played at competing casinos in South Florida in violation of its exclusive rights. The lawsuit asks the court to order the state to declare the table games legal, and to negotiate in good faith. 

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation disagrees with the Seminoles' contention and in June asked the tribe to provide them with a "timeline for the closure of banked card games at your tribal facilities" but the tribe has failed to do so, arguing that regulators are violating the deal by allowing the competing games.

Officials from the tribe met with the governor two weeks ago and returned to Tallahassee last week to continue talks with his staff and key legislators. The Tribe has remained silent about the negotiations but sounded optimistic in its statement on Monday.

“Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman James E. Billie is pleased to report significant progress in the Tribe’s negotiations with the Governor and leaders of the Florida Legislature relative to finalizing a new Compact agreement, and the Tribe remains hopeful that a positive outcome will result,'' the statement said. 

Legislators spent this summer and fall negotiating whether to renew, amend or expand the compact, which must be signed by the governor and approved by the legislature.

According to Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, the lead negotiator for the House, they have discussed increasing the revenue to the state by guaranteeing a yearly payment of $200 million to $400 million, based on revenues, over time frames that range from 7 to 20 years. Other options on the table include allowing the Palm Beach County dog track to add slot machines, licensing a new slot machine casino in Miami -- such as Genting, allowing horse and dog tracks to operate card rooms without having to race animals, and numerous other options.

Diaz, who chairs the House Regulated Affairs Committee, told the Herald/Times the matter is complicated because legislators are divided over most of the issues and any final agreement must appease those who want to protect their local parimutuels, tamp down gaming expansion or use the compact to generate more state revenue.

The tribe has previously said it will ignore the October deadline and not only continue operating the games but also continue sending revenue-sharing payments to the state.

Since the first compact was signed with the state in 2010, the tribe has shared more than $1 billion in revenue in exchange for exclusive operation of its card games, and slot machines at its five casinos outside of South Florida.



April 10, 2015

Broward County may discuss destination resort Tuesday

On Thursday, a Florida house committee voted in favor of an amendment to a gaming bill that would allow Broward and Miami-Dade to hold a referendum on destination resorts or by a vote of the county commission.

Broward Mayor Tim Ryan says that he may bring up the topic of destination resorts on Tuesday during the mayoral comments portion of the meeting. In recent years, county officials talked about the idea of a casino at the BB&T Center in Sunrise where the Panthers hockey team plays but those conversations slowed down after the sale of the Panthers.

“If it happens in Broward, that’s the logical site,” Ryan said. The site is near the Sawgrass Mills mall and was originally conceived to include an entertainment complex.

If the Legislature ultimately passes a bill with the amendment language, it’s too soon to predict whether Broward would choose to hold a referendum or a vote by the county commission.

A special election would cost about $4.5 million, said Rob Hernandez, deputy county administrator.

Ryan said that a vote by the commission would not add the expense of an election.

“We have been down this road a couple of times in Broward County," Ryan said. "Voters said twice they are in favor of it.”

March 26, 2015

House committee workshops gambling plan but progress looks dim

The odds of passing a sweeping rewrite of the state’s gambling laws appeared to dim Thursday as a House committee began debate on a draft proposal to expand gambling in Florida and ended with no commitment to take up the bill for a vote.

Meanwhile, progress appeared to be occurring on another gambling debate -- behind closed doors – as key lawmakers confirmed they continue to talk about renewing the portion of the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe that expires in July.

“I would describe our discussions as having been more detailed than they have perhaps been in the past,’’ said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

He said that he has been in meeting with tribal negotiators “over the past several days” as the Seminoles discuss renewing their exclusive agreement with the state to operate black jack and other banked card games in return for an estimated $136 million in revenue sharing each year.

Continue reading "House committee workshops gambling plan but progress looks dim" »

March 16, 2015

Seminoles finance poll that finds majority of voters want to renew the gaming compact

CasinoA new poll financed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida finds that voters like the level of gambling currently being offered today throughout the state and support the renewal of the gaming compact between the Tribe and the state. 

The poll is a "screaming" statement about "where people see gaming. They like it the way it is. They fear having more of it,'' said Adam Goodman, the poll's media consultant in a conference call with reporters. 

A portion of the tribal compact expires in July and the Florida House has proposed a bill to end it and replace it with a massive expansion of gaming in South Florida. The Florida Senate, meanwhile, says it is considering not renewing the option of the compact that expires this year.

Does voter support for the status quo mean the Tribe agrees and will not attempt to expand gaming by negotiating additional games at its casinos? Not quite. 

"The Tribe is not ruling out anything regarding the renegotiating of the compact or the extension of the table games provision of the compact,'' said Gary Bitner, the Tribe's spokesman. 

From the Tribe's  press release:

Continue reading "Seminoles finance poll that finds majority of voters want to renew the gaming compact" »

March 02, 2015

Tribe launches counter push against gaming legislation

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has broken its silence.

On Monday, the same day the House unveiled a sweeping bill to allow for gambling expansion in South Florida with two destination resort casinos, the Tribe began airing a 30-second television ad in Tallahassee reminding the public about and the $1 billion in revenues the Seminoles have sent the state in the last five years.

The existing compact is "a partnership that works for Florida," states the ad by Adam Goodman of Tampa. It will air in media markets across the state in the next several weeks, said Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner

"The bottom line is what’s going to be best for the State of Florida,'' Goodman said. "We’re trying just to get basic information on the table about the compact and it’s a beginning of the effort to share this with the rest of the state.”

Under the proposal, filed Monday by Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, the state would forgo the estimated $260 million a year in revenue from the Tribe in exchange for an estimated $350 million in gaming revenues from two destination resort casinos.


House to open door to destination resorts, gaming in Palm Beach and dog racing reforms

South Florida could become an even bigger gambling haven with two new destination resort casinos and four dog tracks operating slot machines -- instead of racing dogs -- under a sweeping gaming rewrite filed Monday by House Republican Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa.

The measure, filed in the traditionally gaming-averse House, takes a novel approach to gaming by requiring destination resort operators to buy out active gaming permits in order to operate the swanky casinos.

The bill also helps the powerful South Florida pari-mutuels, who have contributed heavily to GOP election coffers for the last several years, by reducing the tax rate for existing racinos, allowing dog tracks in Palm Beach and Naples to run slot machines, and ending the requirement that dog tracks race dogs in order to offer gaming.

Gaming options would also expand in other parts of the state, such as Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, where wagering on videos of "historical races" would be allowed as a new form of gambling. The seven casinos operated by the Seminole Tribe would also see expanded games as they could offer the full array of black jack, roulette, and craps that are available to the resort casinos.

Continue reading "House to open door to destination resorts, gaming in Palm Beach and dog racing reforms " »

January 11, 2015

Legislature's offer to not renew card games for Seminoles: bluff or bargain?

Black jackThis could be a lucky year for owners of dog tracks, horse tracks and even Miami’s resort casino promoters.

The state’s budget outlook is so good that Florida legislative leaders have suggested that they may not renew a key provision of the gambling agreement — known as the compact — between the state and the Seminole Tribe that allows the tribe to run blackjack tables and other banked card games at its casinos.

By rejecting an estimated $116million a year and reducing the games offered by the tribe, legislators could have new latitude to do something they have failed to do for the past five years: update the state’s outdated gaming laws and open the door to new gambling options from the tribe’s competitors.

Or, they could just be bluffing.

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the governor and Legislature end up doing nothing on the compact,’’ said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who will be the Senate’s point man on negotiations this legislative session.

He admitted it may be a ploy to get the tribe and everybody else to the table. “The loss of the banked card games is enough to motivate further negotiation,” he said. Read more here.


September 29, 2014

Documents: Rick Scott was ready to expand tribal gambling for $2 b over 7 years

From the Associated Press:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's staff nearly reached a multi-billion dollar deal with the Seminole Indian tribe that would have allowed it to add roulette and craps at its South Florida casinos, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The deal, which was scuttled last spring amid resistance from state legislators, also would have opened the door for the Seminoles to build a casino in the Fort Pierce area and would likely have blocked construction of any Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami for the next seven years.

In exchange, the Republican governor would have gotten the headline-grabbing news that it was the largest deal ever reached between a tribe and a state government. The figure was expected to be $2 billion over a seven-year period and the words "largest guarantee ever" were included on several documents instead of an actual amount. Another estimate placed the deal at $15 billion over 30 years.

The documents released by the Scott administration four months after the AP first requested them show that the incumbent governor is open to shifting his stance on gambling. Scott previously has been viewed as quiet supporter of opening major casinos in South Florida and had fostered ties with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Story here.