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.


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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.

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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."

Seminole Tribe's Chairman Billie and Gov. Rick Scott both praise their deal as 'historic'

A day after signing a new multibillion dollar compact , Gov. Rick Scott and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman James E. Billie separately commended the deal as historic. 

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida salutes Gov. Scott for his leadership in working with members of the Senate and the House to finalize this important compact for our 4,000 Seminole tribal members and for all Floridians,'' Billie said in a statement. "We are especially grateful to Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz for the important role they played throughout the process."

Billie said the new compact "will serve Florida well for years to come" and said it saves 3,500 jobs and could create up to 15,000 direct and indirect jobs.  "There is nothing more important than investing in Florida’s economy and continuing to help our workforce grow.

Reached before his meeting with the Florida Cabinet, Scott called it "an historic day yesterday" when he signed the deal to bring a minimum of $3 billion over seven years.

"The last compact five years ago was $1 billion,'' Scott told the Herald/Times. "But I'm just the first part of the process. Now it goes to the Legislature. I respect the decision of (Senate) President Gardiner and Speaker Crisafulli. It goes to them. They'll make a decision."

He noted that he understands that the Legislature must ratify it. "But if you look at the law, the law is that the governor is required to look at this first. I did. I took the time to do an historic compact. It's a good compact for the state. Again, I respect the decision of the Legislature. They'll make the final decision whether they want to go forward with this."

Scott disagreed that the provisions in the compact that allow for two new slots casinos, one each in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, are an expansion of gambling. 

"It does not. If you look at the compact, it puts a cap on Seminole gaming and limits gaming,'' he said. 

He would not answer whether he supports a reduction in the tax rate for South Florida parimutuels which is being contemplated as a companion bill to help win support from the industry. 

Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. 


December 07, 2015

Gardiner: Still no plans to include card games compact money in 2016 budget

Andy Gardiner 120715Senate President Andy Gardiner said Monday that it remains unlikely that the House and Senate will renew the banked card games portion of the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe in time to include the money in the 2016-17 budget.

"We’re certainly not anticipating it,'' Gardiner told the Herald/Times at a pre-session interview for the legislative session that begins Jan. 12.

He said that for a deal to be reached in time for the 2016-17 budget year, lawmakers would need a resolution “certainly by the beginning of session” because of the many hurdles involved in reaching agreement on the plan.

The Legislature must ratify any agreement between the tribe and Gov. Rick Scott. Any ratifying legislation is expected to be used by both gaming opponents and proponents across the state to insert provisions that help their cause. Among the many issues on the table, for example, is the prospect of allowing slot machines in Palm Beach County while requiring that any future expansion of gambling get statewide voter approval. 

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November 29, 2015

Talks continue over how to limit Florida gambling - while allowing some expansion

Resortcasino0625 arg epfThe deadline has passed for the Seminole Tribe to complete its negotiations with the state over whether it will be allowed to continue operating lucrative blackjack games at its Hard Rock casinos but the cards are still on the table.

The stakes are so high for all the parties involved in Florida’s complicated gaming landscape that legislators and the governor’s office are trying to negotiate a way to turn a deal on the card games into a blueprint for gaming across the state by the onset of the legislative session on Jan. 12.

Among the issues: the prospect of another slots casino in Miami, slot machines in Palm Beach and Fort Myers, a requirement that future gambling licenses get statewide voter approval, and the promise of $3 billion in gaming proceeds directed into the state treasury over the next 7 years.

“We’re still talking, still hashing,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the Senate’s lead negotiator who, along with the House’s negotiator, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, has been meeting with the governor’s general counsel, Tim Cerio, and lawyers for the Seminole Tribe.

“We know that the money is important to the governor,” Diaz said. “We know the constitutional amendment to limit gaming in the future is important to the House. We know that local requests are important to the Senate, because they need to pick up votes. But since there’s been no big agreement, everything has been in flux.”

More here.

Photo: Lisa Johnson of Bel Air, Maryland, watches the dealer deal a hand in blackjack at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood in 2011. PATRICK FARRELL

November 15, 2015

Florida lawmakers so far receptive to online fantasy sports industry

Daily Fantasy Sports Season@JeremySWallace @MaryEllenKlas

Two of the newest and biggest companies in online fantasy sports have been kicked out of Nevada, branded as illegal gambling.

New York's attorney general has accused the same companies, DraftKings and FanDuel, of misleading customers and has barred them from that state. Top officials for DraftKings last week tried to quell a growing movement in California to ban them while lawmakers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania debate whether to treat daily fantasy sports sites as games of chance.

But while other major states turn up the regulatory heat on the fast-growing industry, top Florida officials and regulators have been reluctant to weigh in. To the contrary, some powerful lawmakers who have received campaign donations from the fantasy sports lobby are trying to create a safe haven for the industry.

"Government should have little to no involvement in the recreational daily lives of Floridians," said state Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton, who filed a bill last week that would prohibit the state from treating fantasy sports companies as gambling operations. Providers would have to register with the state and provide assurances minors are not participating. A companion Senate bill has been filed by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who will become Senate president next year.

Despite a 1991 attorney general opinion that declared such games illegal in the Sunshine State, current Attorney General Pam Bondi has not publicly commented on the newer version, high-dollar fantasy sports industry and has so far refrained from the types of investigations into the industry that her counterparts in New York and Massachusetts have embarked on. Gov. Rick Scott's Division of Parimutuel Waging has likewise remained silent.

The 1991 opinion, issued by former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, declared that fantasy sports leagues which accept entry fees and distribute winnings are in violation of the state's gambling prohibition.

Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray said her office has had "extensive discussions" with the U.S. Attorney's Office and thinks the matter should be handled federally.

While facing combative legislatures in other states, the industry has found vociferous defenders in Florida.

More here.

November 11, 2015

Miccosukee Tribe ousts its chairman over $1 billion tax dispute

Colley Billie@jayhweaver

The chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe has been ousted because of his efforts to resolve a longstanding dispute with the federal government over an income-tax bill now totaling more than $1 billion.

The tribe’s general council voted to remove Colley Billie, who has two years remaining in his second term, as he attempted to settle the nasty legal battle with the Internal Revenue Service and started to withhold taxes from casino gambling distributions to some 600 members — a step the IRS demanded in legal action.

The council, consisting of members of the West Miami-Dade County tribe, voiced its discontent in a petition accusing him of depleting $82 million from a reserve account set aside for paying back taxes owed to the IRS. In the impeachment petition, the council also highlighted that at Billie’s direction, the tribe has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue at its casino operation with bingo-style slot machines and poker.

And, the petition accused Billie of misappropriating unspecified funds for his own personal use.

“Colley Billie has failed to perform the duties of chairman and protect the resources and follow the ordinances and laws of the tribe,” declared the petition, which the council approved on Thursday. Story here.  

Photo: Colley Billie, chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, left, and his wife, Consuelo Billie, second from left, talk with Miami Springs photographer Robert Holmes West End Art Fair in April. MARSHA HALPER MIAMI HERALD STAFF

November 05, 2015

Seminole Tribe add public pressure to get renewal of gaming compact


The Seminole Tribe for Florida is turning up the public pressure on state lawmakers to renew a gaming compact that would allow them to continue offering various card games at its casinos in Florida.

The Tribe on Thursday announced they have started airing new television commercials in Tallahassee calling on Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to renew the compact. The ads say the Tribe has created 20,000 new jobs and given the state $1 billion in revenues. With a new deal, the ad declares 15,000 new jobs and billions more in revenues would come to Florida.  

“We’ve waited long enough,” an unidentified narrator says in the 30-second ad.

The ad come less than a week after the state and the Tribe failed to reach a deal before an Oct. 31 negotiations deadline hit.

Also last week, the state filed a lawsuit in Tampa federal court alleging that the tribe was violating state and federal law by operating the blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat at five of its seven casinos in Florida at the end of the 90-day grace period given when the 2010 compact with the state expired in July.

The Tribe contends that it is entitled to continue playing the games because the state's Division of Parimutuel Wagering has authorized look alike black jack to be played using slot machine software at slots casinos in South Florida. They say that's a direct violation of the Tribe's exclusive right to operate the games in Florida, under the 2010 compact agreement.