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.

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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:

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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.

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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?

@MarcACaputo

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.

 

 

Gambling may be dead for the session but its short life was lucrative

The debate over gambling may be dead in the Florida Legislature for this session, but it's short life was very lucrative for legislative campaign coffers. 

The Republican Party of Florida raised nearly three times as much as the Florida Democratic Party from gambling interests, as is usually the case, but to get there you have to exclude the $375,000 contribution to the Democrats from a global gaming company, Delaware North Corporation, that wanted to influence a local election.

Gambling interests gave the Republican Party of Florida $832,000 between Jan. 1 and March 30 and, not including the Delaware North money, gave Democrats $347,000. That includes $150,000 in checks to each of the parties from the Seminole Tribe -- which also gave Gov. Rick Scott's political committee $500,000.

Gaming companies gave thousands to the political committees of legislative leaders as well, as new laws opened the door to unlimited contributions but greater transparency.

On the other side of the gambling scale is Disney, which vigorously opposes allowing so-called destination resorts into Florida to compete with its convention business. The company gave close to $550,000 to state level campaigns in the last quarter, including $323,000 to the Republican Party and $71,640 to the Democratic Party.

The company's affiliates also gave a $250,000 check to the Florida Chamber political action fund, the Florida Jobs PAC. and $25,000 each to Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Richard Corcoran.

The biggest contributors among the gambling interests were represented by the lobbying firm of Ballard Partners, headed by Brian Ballard.

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April 03, 2014

State officials announce more arrests in continuing crackdown on Internet cafés

From an FDLE press release:

The Illegal Gaming Task Force served search warrants today in five Florida counties targeting internet cafés owned by Ivan Vega, 1873 Pine Bay Drive, Lake Mary, Fla., and Peter Miller, 120 Sand Castle Way, Neptune Beach, Fla.

These warrants represent a continuing crackdown on the operators of illegal gambling centers around Florida known as internet cafés.  Along with today's operation, Ivan Vega was also arrested on a warrant from an earlier investigation conducted by State Attorney Willie Meggs of the 2nd Judicial Circuit. Vega was charged with keeping a gambling house, manufacture, sale, possession of coin operated devices, lottery, and plays at games of chance.

“These warrants are a key step in investigating organizations claiming to be ‘internet cafés’ but actually conducting illegal gaming. My Office of Statewide Prosecution will continue to collaborate with law enforcement on these cases,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Search warrants were executed in Duval, Columbia, Marion, Brevard, Lake and counties. During the execution of warrants, Gaming Task Force investigators seized computers, cash related to the illegal activity, banking records and employee rosters. 

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