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. 

April 27, 2014

In gambling talks, is Gov. Rick Scott playing poker or Uno?


The end of Florida’s 60-day legislative session always resembles a complicated card game, a poker-bridge blend with legislation traded back and forth amid hidden agendas and the high stakes of a $75 billion budget.

Gov. Rick Scott just threw down a wild card.

With less than a week before the session ends on Friday, Scott’s team is provoking talk about a special legislative session, perhaps starting May 18, to consider a new gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The potential deal, called a “compact,” could give the state as much as $500 million annually, about double what it gets now. But it could hurt the states 31 pari-mutuel facilities, many of which see the Seminoles and Miccosukee tribes as threats.

To pull this off, Scott needs five-card stud poker skills. But some wonder whether he is more suited to play the simple kid’s game Uno.


More here

April 12, 2014

With compact, governor has the power to dictate future of gaming in Florida

Gov. Rick Scott, who made a career out of negotiating hospital mergers, is now applying his negotiating skills to a deal with the Seminole Tribe that could singlehandedly dictate the future of gaming in Florida.

The legal agreement, known as a compact, could open the door to swanky resort casinos in Miami Dade and Broward, or force them to remain off limits indefinitely. It could allow for dog racing to be replaced by arcade-style games, or close loopholes in state gambling law. It could allow for lower tax rates at the state’s horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons, or force them to remain at a competitive disadvantage with the tribe.

Or it could do nothing, leaving in place the status quo.

Like any good negotiator, Scott is keeping his cards close to the vest and neither he nor the tribe is talking.

Records show the governor’s general counsel, Pete Antonacci, hired two Minnesota law firms in December that specialize in tribal law to “provide advice and assistance on tribal-state compact negotiations.” Antonacci, traveled to Fort Lauderdale recently, to meet with the tribe’s top lawyers.

And the most potent sign that the governor is talking: his office asked legislators to stop discussions of its gambling bills to avoid losing his leverage in the deal. That prompted House Speaker Will Weatherford last week to officially declare “lights are out” on gambling legislation for the session.

“The compact truly has become the cornerstone of gaming policy in the state of Florida,’’ said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who helped negotiate the current compact but has not been invited to be part of this year’s discussion. More here.