January 27, 2016

Update: Seven Florida race tracks ordered by state to to stop player-banked card games

CasinoSeven parimutuel race tracks in Florida, including West Flagler's Magic City Casino in Miami, were given notice Tuesday that they were illegally operating player-banked cards games, and ordered to appear before an administrative judge.

The decision is an about-face by the state's Division of Parimutuel Wagering, which had  allowed 18 cardrooms in Florida to operate the games under the state law that authorized poker.

The card games -- which include three-card poker, two-card poker, Casino War and Pai Gow poker -- were brought to Florida by Palm Beach Kennel Club in 2012 and soon were copied by other card rooms. They are popular because they have the feel of a casino game as players bank against each other.

By 2014, state officials had proposed rules to place limits on the games but the rules were challenged in court. The challenge led to a settlement and DBPR adopted a new rule approving and regulating the games in 2014.

As part of the approval process, regulators visited cardrooms, sought modifications in the game and clarifications in an attempt to make sure they were in compliance with state gaming laws, those involved in the activity told the Herald/Times.

As the Seminole Tribe was working to reach agreement with the state to continue operating its black jack and other table games, it filed a lawsuit alleging that the player-banked card games were an expansion of gambling and a violation of the existing compact.

The state continued to allowed the games to operate after the lawsuit was filed but, after Gov. Rick Scott signed a new compact in December, the agency moved to repeal the rule it had previously approved on player-banked games. The repeal is also being challenged.

According to the complaints filed with the seven parimutuels, the state sent in inspectors to the various tracks in December and found they were operating the games and did not have proper operating licenses.

The  other parimutuels served with the notice include: Palm Beach Kennel Club, St. Petersburg Kennel Club, Gulfstream Race Course, Jacksonville Kennel Club, Tampa Bay Downs and Pompano Park Racing.  Download West Flagler AC Packet

"It's unclear how the agency can stay these games are unauthorized when they expressly authorized them in numerous approvals,'' said John Lockwood, a lawyer who represented several of the parimutuels that sought permission to operate the poker games.

Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson refused to elaborate on why and how he came to the conclusion that the games that his agency had previously approved had all of a sudden been ruled in violation of state law.

“After reviewing operations and obtaining additional information at pari-mutuel facilities throughout the state, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering discovered violations of Florida law resulting in administrative complaints,''  Lawson said in a statement to the Herald/Times. "We will continue to administer the law and maintain our opposition to unauthorized activity conducted at any facility licensed by the state.”



Howard Korman, CEO of Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, told the Senate Regulated Industries Committee Wednesday that he was surprised by the state's action after state regulators came to his facility before they installed the machines and approved them.

"We explained to them how the games are played, we had our internal controls approved and it wasn't until just recently that all of a sudden they said no,'' he told the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. " We basically felt we had complete permission. We were the 12th facility in the state to put them in, waiting to make sure everything was taken care of...I truly don't undesrtand why at this point in time the argument is being made by our regulators that the rules now is different."

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, offered his conclusion. "It's unfortunate for someone who went to the expense of putting those in to have the carpet pulled out from under you,'' he said, noting that he asked questions about the compact last week, suggesting that the provision in it that legalized the banked poker games was nothing new because the state has already authorized them.

"I've got to believe it's related to the compact and the questions I asked in this committee last week,'' he said. 

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, told reporters he had questions about DBPR's action after it was raised by Jacksonville Racing CEO Howard Korman before the committee on Wednesday.

Korman said that he was surprised by the action because the agency had not only approved the operation of the card games, but observed how they were operated before they gave the approval. 

"We had our internal controls approved and it wasn't until just recently that all of a sudden they said no,'' Korman said.

Bradley said he wanted to know "what is it that precipitated them moving in this direction at this point in time? Is it a philosophy that what they are doing before was inconsistent with the current state law and, if so, which law and what do they see happening from a factual standpoint that would draw that conclusion?"

January 20, 2016

In face of revenue decline, gaming committee gets hard-sell on compact

In the face of the new revenue numbers, Gov. Rick Scott's office on Wednesday put on a full-court press in an attempt to persuade a reluctant Legislature to accept his $3 billion agreement with the Seminole Tribe.

Jeff Woodburn, the governor's gaming policy director,  urged the Senate Regulated Industries Committee to adopt the seven-year deal to guarantee the money, and suggested that the governor was willing to wait out an agreement with lawmakers, who must ratify the deal. 

"He is going to take the time he needs to get the best deal for the state of Florida and this is the best deal for Florida,'' Woodburn said during a workshop on the proposal.

Reached later by reporters, Gov. Rick Scott said that he did his part to agree to a deal but it was now up to the Legislature to ratify it. 

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, told reporters after the meeting that the projected decline in revenue "certainly got the governor's attention" and his statements show he is ready to rely on the compact to finance his tax cuts. 

"His involvement in this process is necessary if this is going to become a reality' Bradley said. "As revenue projections go down, it certainly does ratchet up pressure as to whether we need these dollars in order to provide basic services to the people of the state of Florida."

Scott, however, has not made it clear whether he would accept a compact that is less than $3 billion in new revenue for the state. Jim Allen, CEO of gaming operations for the Seminole Tribe, said that the governor is clearly committed to a $3 billion guarantee over seven years, an amount unprecedented in any tribal compact "in the history of the world."

Continue reading "In face of revenue decline, gaming committee gets hard-sell on compact" »

January 19, 2016

Faced with diminished support for compact, Seminole Tribe launches two television ads

 With the Florida Legislature all but declaring Gov. Rick Scott's agreement with the Seminole Tribe dead on arrive, the tribe has launched two 30-second television ads that are running statewide on cable news networks to keep the pressure on.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee has scheduled a workshop on the proposal on Wednesday and the House Regulated Industries Committee is drafting an alternative to the compact that is expected to be ready next week. Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has predicted that the issue will not get resolved this session. 

One of the Seminole's ad, “Sovereign” highlights the Seminole Tribe’s commitment to Florida, and the second “Letter” focuses on the governor's agreement but continues to echo misleading claims from the governor's letter and suggests that "for the first time" would "empower the Legislature to keep Florida family friendly" and creates "nearly 20,000 new Florida jobs."

There is nothing today that stops the Legislature from "keeping the state family friendly" and there is nothing in the proposed deal that requires the creation of any jobs.

Both ads are running Tampa, Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Ft Myers, Mobile-Pensacola, Tallahassee, Panama City, and Gainesville.on CNN, FOX, MSNBC and on digital sites. 

Gambling opponents bash compact and hope for court ruling to squelch all gaming expansion

John SowinskiThe proposed gambling agreement between the Seminole Tribe and Gov. Rick Scott is a "bad deal for Florida" because it will expand gambling across the state, violate the Florida Constitution, and undermine the state's economy, said John Sowinski, president of NoCasinos. 

As a result, the an Orlando-based advocacy group will lobby against any effort by lawmakers to ratify the $3 billion, seven-year deal between the governor and the tribe, will argue before the Florida Supreme Court that "recent murky case law" and a shift in legislative thinking has led to a new interpretation of the state's prohibition on legalized forms of gambling and will ask the court to clarify that any change in gambling law must be approved by voters statewide.

And, if the Florida Supreme Court rejects their argument in the pending case known as Gretna Racing v. the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the group has launched a petition drive to put an amendment on the 2018 ballot that seeks to clarify that all gambling activity must be authorized in the Florida Constitution, and approve by voters in a statewide referendum.

"Casino gambling is the wrong economic and the wrong social policy for Florida,'' Sowinski said. ""It’s been a disaster and failed to fulfill promises in virtually every jurisdiction where it’s been legalized. And it’s become a burden our our legislative and political processes." 

Continue reading "Gambling opponents bash compact and hope for court ruling to squelch all gaming expansion" »

January 12, 2016

Video(s): What to watch for in Florida's 2016 legislative session

From tax cuts and health care to gambling and guns, here are six key issues and themes to watch for as the 2016 Florida legislative session gets underway today.

Continue reading "Video(s): What to watch for in Florida's 2016 legislative session" »

January 07, 2016

When offered jobs and $ promises - not guarantees - Florida voters like the proposed Seminole compact

In the face of widespread legislative opposition to the $3 billion gambling deal signed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe, the Florida Chamber conducted a statewide poll over the holidays that clearly shows that most Floridians have no idea about the issue but, when seeded with many unchecked claims, respondents overwhelmingly support it.

The compact, signed by Scott in December, would give the tribe the exclusive right to operate craps and roulette at its seven casinos and have partial exclusivity over the right to play blackjack in return for revenue sharing. But because the Legislature must approve the compact, and because of pushback from competing gaming interests, the issue will likely be one of the most challenging facing lawmakers in the session that begins on Tuesday. 

The Florida Chamber, whose roster of paid members includes the Seminole Tribe, conducted a statewide poll Dec. 28-30. The chamber won't tell us if it's a poll for hire but the press release accompanying the poll emphasized the fact that those who know about the compact support it.

One thing is certain: most people know nothing about the gaming compact. At least 51 percent didn't know if the tribe had kept its agreement "to provide a minimum of $1 billion over five years in revenue to the state" and 63 percent knew nothing about the 20-year deal Scott just signed with the tribe, according to the poll by Public Opinion Strategies.

When pollsters pushed voters with information, the support then emerged.  For example, 80 percent liked the claim that if the compact is approved it will save 3,500 blackjack related jobs; 74 percent liked the claim that the tribe commits to giving the state $3 billion over seven years "three times more than the prior compact guarantee of $1 billion."

Other claims were predictably popular: "the Seminole Tribe has agreed to invest more than $1.8 billion dollars in improving its entertainment facilities, creating more than 15,000 new jobs in the state" and "this agreement not only creates a cap on the amount of gaming that can be offered by the Seminole Tribe, but it also empowers the legislature to limit the expansion of other gaming across the state."

While the revenue raised is guaranteed in the compact, there are no enforcement provisions that ensure the jobs will emerge or the investment will be completed, and the pollsters made no effort to explain that. However, after the push questions, 75 percent of the 700 responding said they would approve of the Legislature signing the compact and 20 percent said they would not. In Miami Dade and Broward, the support surged from 33 percent before the claims were spelled out, to 73 percent. In Tampa, the support grew from 38 percent before the claims, to 74 percent afterward.

Another of the key findings is that 53 percent of those polled believe the state should "keep the number of gambling opportunities about the same"  while 27 percent want to expand gambling and 19 percent want to reduce gambling. 

When asked about whether the current gaming compact is good or bad, people are also rather ambivalent with 53 percent saying it is "somewhere in between."

Here are the crosstabs. Here are the top lines. Here's is the summary.  


December 22, 2015

Resorts World Miami donates to Gov. Scott's political committee days after compact deal announced


Three days after Gov. Rick Scott signed a new gambling agreement earlier this month, a company that is a division of a Malaysian casino conglomerate that could benefit from the deal wrote Scott one of the biggest donation checks it has written all year to any political player in Florida.

Scott’s Let’s Get To Work political committee reported receiving a $20,000 check from Resorts World Miami - a part of The Genting Group - on Dec. 10. On December 7, Scott announced he signed a new gaming deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that would give the tribe exclusive rights to operate blackjack and add craps and roulette. But the deal also opens the door to expanded gaming, especially in South Florida where the Genting Group has said it wants to build a casino resort on Biscayne Bay on the former site of the Miami Herald building.

Under the new compact, the Seminole Tribe would continue to make payments to the state even in the face of increased competition from a new Miami or Broward slots casino.

The compact still must be approved by the Florida Legislature before it can go into effect. It has already received a lukewarm reception from some lawmakers who have predicted the deal will get a tough review when the Legislature meets in January.

Resorts World Miami has given over $120,000 in donations to political players in Florida this year, but the $20,000 donation is the single largest check since the company wrote the Republican Party of Florida a $50,000 check on March 3.


Continue reading "Resorts World Miami donates to Gov. Scott's political committee days after compact deal announced " »

December 15, 2015

Seminole Tribe pours millions into state political donations


The Seminole Tribe of Florida has become increasingly aggressive doling out campaign donations as state leaders consider a new gaming agreement that could bring the Tribe billions more in gambling revenues.

Over the last three years, the Tribe has given more than $2.7 million to more than 90 politicians, a dozen political committees lawmakers control or the two major parties. That's more money than the Tribe gave out in the previous 12 years combined and far outpaces political donations by other gambling interests, state campaign finance records show.

"The Seminole Tribe of Florida has been, and continues to be, actively engaged on multiple levels in the political and legislative process," said Gary Bitner, a spokesperson for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

When the Florida Legislature reconvenes Jan. 12, lawmakers will be charged with reviewing a $3 billion gaming compact that Gov. Rick Scott signed with the Tribe earlier this month. The Florida Legislature must approve the deal.

Continue reading "Seminole Tribe pours millions into state political donations" »

December 08, 2015

Florida governor's gaming deal faces long odds in Legislature

As Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday touted the $3 billion agreement he signed with the Seminole Tribe as a way to bring economic stability to Florida’s constantly changing gambling environment, the deal faced an uncertain future in the Florida Legislature.

“I think it’s going to be a really tough road,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, noting that its “fatal flaw” is that it benefits only gaming operations in three South Florida counties. “If we’re going to have to close down facilities that have been here 70 to 80 years so the Indians have a monopoly and can continue to expand their offerings, that’s just wrong.”

Even in South Florida, home to eight casinos that compete with the tribe, the criticism of the 20-year deal was strong.

“It’s very impressive that the governor got $3 billion to pick winners and losers and put longstanding family businesses like mine out of business,” said Izzy Havenick, vice president at Magic City Casino in Miami. His company won voter approval in Lee County for a slots license at its dog track in Bonita Springs — something that would be allowed only in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties under the deal.

“From our standpoint, we get a new casino in Miami-Dade County — right next to us — and we lose any potential to be able to offer another product at our facility in Lee County,” he said. “We’re getting hit on both coasts.”

Contributing to the negative buzz over the deal was the way the governor handled the announcement. He blindsided legislators by announcing in a letter at 8 p.m. Monday that he had finalized the deal and gave no warning to the members of House and Senate negotiating team that he had reached the agreement.

“I had no idea,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, who has spent the last five months as the House’s lead negotiator on the deal, meeting with the governor’s staff, the tribe’s representatives and senators. “My phone started blowing up when I was at the Miami Heat game.”

More here.

AG Pam Bondi reacts to Seminole gaming compact proposal

@MaryEllenKlas @ByKristenMClark

Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office has authority over the enforcement of the state's gaming laws, said she hadn't yet read the proposed compact between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe and couldn't say whether the tribe is currently violating the law.

"I want to read the compact and see what the expansion is," Bondi told reporters Tuesday. "My goal is for Florida not to become Atlantic City; I've always said that. I don't want a casino on Longboat Key, where I grew up, and all of our beaches in the Panhandle. That's been my greatest concern, obviously. But I'd like to look at the compact and see how extensive it is."

As the tribe continues to operate black jack and other banked card games at its Hard Rock casinos and three other of its properties despite the fact that the provision authorizing those games expired in July, Bondi couldn't say if the operation of those games is illegal.

"I need to look at the compact and see what it says,'' she said. "We tried to download it this morning so I could look at it and couldn't, because obviously this happened late last night. I'm not dodging your question; I just haven't looked at it."