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 19, 2015

Seminole Tribe: House and Senate are posturing but serious talks are not underway

CasinoThe Florida Seminole Tribe is on the defensive. 

After five years of quietly writing a monthly check to the state as part of the landmark gaming compact that gave them the exclusive right to operate black jack, chemin de fer and baccarat at their Hard Rock casinos, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature have sent a signal that they may not renew the deal when that portion of their agreement expires in July.

In an effort to make the case to continue the deal that drew at least $1 billion in revenue for the state over five years, the Tribe has broken its silence.

In the last month, it paid for a statewide television ad, espousing the value of the gaming compact. It financed a statewide poll, that showed that most voters support continuing the gaming compact. It launched a lobbying campaign to “educate” legislators about why provisions in the compact stifle the gaming “creep” that happens when states allow non-tribal gaming to expand.

And on Wednesday, the tribe’s general counsel and chief executive agreed to a rare on-the-record interview with the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau and the News Service of Florida.

“We want to see if there is a way to extend the contract before it expires. We’re still early in the game,'' said Seminole General Counsel Jim Shore. "We’re trying to figure out where everybody is on the compact or gaming issue.”  

Here’s what we learned:

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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 21, 2015

Governor holds secret meeting with gambling execs

CasinoThe top executives of seven of South Florida gambling venues traveled to Tallahassee Wednesday to have a pre-arranged, closed-door meeting with Gov. Rick Scott who, in keeping with his un-even policies on transparency, kept it off his public agenda. 

The officials -- from the Isle of Capri, Dania, Mardi Gras, Calder, Magic City, Miami Jai Alai and Hialeah -- discussed their continued hopes for the Seminole gaming compact, sources close to the casinos told the Herald/Times.

The governor must either re-negotiate a portion of the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida by the end of July, or forfeit about $116 million of annual revenue. Although the governor negotiates the deal, the Legislature will have the final say since it must approve it.

The pari-mutuels want to use the compact as an opportunity to lower their tax rate to better allow them to compete with the tribe.

Absent from the meeting was Gulfstream race track and casino and the Palm Beach County Kennel Club, the other two South Florida pari-mutuels. PBKC's top priority is to bring slot machines to the track and end the requirement that they race dogs in order to operate poker games.

 
Here is the public version of the governor's schedule:

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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.

 

November 13, 2014

State committee examines Florida's share of the gaming industry

The closing of Dania Casino & Jai-Alai's gaming operation is expected to cost the state an estimated $3 million in tax revenue, a state committee reported on Thursday.

The Revenue Estimating Conference looked at money received from slot machines and Indian gaming in one of its three meetings of the year -- the last gaming forecast meeting was in July.

Gaming revenues grow about 1.5 percent per year, said Amy Baker, coordinator of the state Office of Economic & Demographic Research. The forecast is slightly lower for the upcoming year because of the loss of the Dania Beach gambling. The state revenue from slot machines is an estimated $181.7 million though figures were adjusted slightly at Thursday's meeting and the final numbers aren't yet available. 

While jai-alai games are continuing at the longtime Dania Beach facility until Dec. 30th, the slots have already been shut down. The casino has announced that it would close for at least a year for a $50 million renovation. The Miami Herald reported in August the facility had the worst revenue performance in the South Florida gaming market.

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October 03, 2014

Smith and Rader co-sponsor greyhound racing bill

Prompted by stories written by a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times capital reporter on problems plaguing the greyhound racing industry, Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale and Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Boca Raton, have filed the Greyhound Safety Act to tighten regulations. Reporter Mary Ellen Klas  found myriad concerns in areas ranging from greyhound injuries  to rogue operators being allowed to train and own racing dogs.

A press release from the legislators follows:

Florida's lax enforcement of regulations allowing the state to revoke or suspend the licenses of greyhound racers could dramatically change next year under legislation filed by Senator Chris Smith (D-Ft. Lauderdale).

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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.