April 14, 2014

Hall-of-famer Brooks Robinson's lawsuit against tribe exposes flaws in compact

Brooks Robinson nowRenowned baseball hall-of-famer Brooks Robinson plunged six feet from an unsecured stage during a charity event at the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood two years ago and is now suing the Seminole Tribe for nearly $10 million for his permanent injuries.

But whether the 76-year-old Baltimore Orioles superstar will collect enough to even cover his medical bills is an open question, said his Miami attorney, Jack Hickey, because under state law the tribe’s liability is limited.

Robinson still experiences bleeding on the brain, cracks in his spine, and has lost five inches in height as a result of the injuries, Hickey said. He requires constant care and “has aged ten years since the fall.”

Under the state’s legal agreement with the tribe, if someone is injured at a tribal casino and wants to sue, the tribe’s payment is capped at $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident, the same limits enjoyed by the state when it is sued for negligence.

A victim suffering from serious injury “can blow through that pretty quickly,” Hickey said. But, unlike the state, victims who sue the tribe can’t appeal to the Legislature for more money when a jury awards more than the liability limits. Story here. 

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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 08, 2014

Sachs puts the brakes on greyhound racing de-coupling as hearing 'melts down'

The effort to reduce greyhound racing in Florida hit the skids Tuesday as the sponsor of the amendment was forced to withdraw it after infighting within the industry made it impossible for her to win the votes.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, withdrew the measure as worries about election year politics, the looming uncertainty of a gaming compact, and infighting between the bitterly competitive gaming industry overshadowed the debate.

"It was a meltdown,'' said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Tampa, after the meeting.

The Senate Gaming Committee voted unanimously to require dog tracks to report injuries for the first time and passed SB 742 by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. The bill imposes fines on track veterinarians who fail to report race-related injuries and follows a similar bill passed last year that requires tracks to report greyhound deaths. In the first 9 months, 74 greyhound deaths were reported – more than one every three days. 

Sachs wanted to expand the injury reporting bill by adding an amendment that would have allowed dog tracks -- for the first time in Florida history -- to operate their poker rooms and slot machines without live racing. Sachs has supported a similar bill for the past four years and it is vigorously backed by animal rights activists, dozens of whom crowded the committee meeting room for the hearing.

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April 07, 2014

Economists: If greyhound tracks decouple, state will see revenue dip for two years

GreyhoundsEven before the ink was dry on the proposed amendment to SB 742 to allow greyhound tracks to operate their poker room and slot machine operations without racing dogs, the state's economists were hard at work calculating the cost.

Economists estimate that by ending the requirement to run 100 live races a year, the state could lose between $78,000 to $336,000 in tax revenue the first year and $121,000 the second year. As tracks raise additional money from inter-track wagering operations, taxes from those operations would start to offset the lost revenue in the third year and that would continue to increase over time.

Economists came to these conclusions on Friday, before the amendment by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, saw the light of day. But this is important: these numbers are not expected to be the net cost to the state if greyhound racing declines.  Download Sachs Decoupling amendment

There are 20 greyhound tracks operating in the state and economists estimate that at least seven will stop live racing if the bill were to pass. With fewer races, there will be a need for less regulation and, proponents say, that will produce a net savings. How much is still unknown but, according to the Spectrum Gaming study commissioned by lawmakers last year, the state spends about $4.1 million a year to regulate the industry and takes in $3.1 million in revenue -- a net loss of about $1 million, according to 2012 numbers.

The higher estimate produced by state economists is based on many assumptions: that seven of the 20 dog tracks stop racing completely, one reduces its races by 50 percent and another by 65 percent and the tax rate on intertrack wagering is fixed at 1.28 percent.

The economists assume that if legislators "de-couple" live racing from the other gambling operations, it won't mean the end to greyhound racing in Florida, just the reduction of it -- by an estimated 42 percent.

The Senate Gaming Committee is scheduled to take up a bill Tuesday by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, to require all greyhound tracks to report their injuries. Sachs will be among many of the amendments proposed and it is expected to pass. It's fate remains uncertain in the House. 

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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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Senate to revive bill to end greyhound racing and report injuries

In a rare concession, the Florida Senate Gaming chairman on Thursday acknowledged that it is unlikely lawmakers can reach agreement on a sweeping gaming bill this legislative session but they will pursue a bill to begin the end of greyhound racing in Florida.

The Senate will abandon its gambling rewrite -- unless the governor negotiates a compact with the Seminole Tribe, said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, in an announcement Thursday to the full Senate.

But he said the Senate will convene its gaming committee next week to take up bills by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, that end the requirement that greyhound tracks race dogs and to require injury reporting at greyhound tracks.

“Even if comprehensive reform is not in the cards for this session, we need to keep trying to find a graceful transition away from greyhound racing,'' Richter said. "Industry representatives concede today that it’s a dying sport" and a gaming report commissioned by the House and Senate called the sport "loss leaders." 

As for the compact, House Speaker Will Weatherford said Wednesday "it's getting late,'' to complete an agreement. 

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April 02, 2014

Weatherford: Time is running out for a gambling bill

Gov. Rick Scott is in quiet, some say subdued, negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over a new gambling compact. The House won't take up a bill to address gambling expansion until a compact is complete. And the Senate has repeatedly postponed a hearing to vote out its proposal to build two new destination casinos in Miami Dade and Broward.

Conclusion: "It's getting late,'' said House Speaker Will Weatherford on Wednesday.

As the Legislature reached its half-way point of the 60-day session on Wednesday, pre-session predictions seem to be coming true as the odds of a gambling bill emerging, then passing, become dimmer each day.

Weatherford told reporters that while the House has moved one bill through committee, it's not prepared to take any more action until the governor acts. 

"We said for the last six months, there were two components: One was a negotiated compact. We have not seen that and we’re almost at the sixth week of session,'' he said. "It’s probably getting a little late for a compact at this point. And second, we said we needed a constitutional amendment to move from both chambers. That doesn’t look like it’s moving in the Senate either. It’s getting late.”

Meanwhile, legislators have had no updates on the progress of the negotiations. "It's very quiet,'' Weatherford said. 

 

 

March 19, 2014

Update: House moves forward on gambling overhaul while Scott asks Senate to put brakes on

As a Florida House committee voted Wednesday to create new state agency to regulate gambling, Gov. Rick Scott asked the Senate to put the brakes on its proposal to bring two resort casinos to South Florida so that the legislation would not interfere with his gambling negotiations with the Seminole Tribe.

As a result, Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter abruptly cancelled a Monday meeting scheduled to take up the Senate’s gambling bills.

“The governor’s office called me and asked if we would slow down the process until we know what the terms of a potential deal with the tribe is,’’ Richter told the Herald/Times late Wednesday. He said he expects the vote to be delayed for at least another week and he is optimistic the governor will resolve the gaming compact before session ends in May.

The compact, a legal agreement between the state and the tribe, guarantees that the tribe give the state about $234 million a year in revenue in exchange for the exclusive right to operate slot machines at four casinos outside of Miami-Dade and Broward. It also allows the tribe to operate banked card games — blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat — at the Hard Rock casinos in Tampa and near Hollywood, plus three other casinos.

The portion of the agreement that relates to table games expires Aug. 1, 2015, and Scott has decided to start negotiating terms of the deal now. If he resolves the agreement, legislators must ratify it and it is uncertain whether that could be completed before session is scheduled to adjourn May 2.

Meanwhile the House and Senate are moving forward with bills that overhaul how the state regulates gaming and both are prepared to open the door to expanded gaming of the governor agrees to allow new games during his negotiations with the tribe. Story here.

 

March 18, 2014

Agency continues to reject Gulfstream - Genting deal

From the News Service of Florida

State regulators denied a request to move a non-profit pari-mutuel permit associated with Gulfstream Park racetrack to a downtown Miami location, effectively blocking a deal with gambling giant Genting to start a stand-alone casino.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Friday denied the request by the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred After Racing Program Inc., or GPTARP, saying that the permit was issued to the non-profit for use in Broward County and can't be moved to Miami-Dade County.

The permit is a cornerstone of a deal struck by Gulfstream and Resorts World, a division of Malaysia-based Genting Group, along with breeders and thoroughbred horse owners and trainers, to open a casino hotel at a Miami bayfront property purchased by Genting in 2011 for $236 million.

Under the plan, Resorts World would use the GPTARP permit to operate up to 2,000 slot machines at the Miami locale, while races would continue at theGulfstream site.

Critics of the plan say that it would essentially "decouple" racing from the more-lucrative gambling --- slot machines and poker --- the pari-mutuel permits allow. Resorts World lobbyists are also trying to get lawmakers to approve the deal during the legislative session that ends in May.