October 27, 2015

Group proposes constitutional amendment of gambling in Florida

 @JeremySWallace

Voters would have the final say on whether to allow non-tribal casino gambling in Florida under a new constitutional amendment proposed by a coalition of anti-gambling groups.

With the Florida Legislature under constant pressure from pro-gambling groups to allow Las Vegas-style gaming, organizers of a new group, Voters in Charge, want to pass an amendment that would make clear that no additional gambling can be allowed in Florida without a statewide public referendum on the issue.

“People will agree or disagree about casino gambling,” said John Sowinski, chairman of Voters in Charge, which was created last week. “But regardless of your position, given the stakes involved and the money that the gambling industry puts into campaigns and lobbying, the people of Florida should have the final say on whether or not to legalize casino-style gambling.”

The amendment would not affect any gambling currently allowed on Seminole Tribe of Florida property, which is allowed through a gambling compact between Florida and the Tribe. But it does send a warning message to state legislators to prevent them from considering expanding gambling at pari-mutuels or other venues as part of an ongoing renegotiation with the Tribe over the deal, Sowinski agreed.

Sowinski said gambling should already be barred unless there is a vote given a current state constitutional prohibition on lotteries, according to his view. But he said a series of court rulings and lobbying pressure have put that under risk. He said the amendment would clear up once and for all that only forms of casino gambling approved by votes through statewide initiatives is legal in Florida.

His new group, which has support from a group called the No Casinos Coalition, is not pushing for the amendment for the 2016 ballot. Instead, they are aiming for 2018.

To get on the ballot, the group needs to collect 683,149 signatures from registered voters in Florida. After 68,314 are collected, the groups ballot language would be reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office to sure it is clear and a single subject.

October 26, 2015

Seminole Tribe sues the state as 'insurance ' despite reporting 'significant progress' in gaming talks

CasinoAfter weeks of intense negotiations with the Gov. Rick Scott and legislators, the Seminole Tribe of Florida broke its silence Monday and reported that "significant progress" is underway to renew its gaming compact with the state but also filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the state of not negotiating in "good faith" -- just in case things don't work out.

"The Tribe believes that a legislative solution would be in the best interest of the State and the Tribe,'' the tribe said in a statement Monday, after filing a lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee. It added, however, that the lawsuit was necessary "in order to protect its interests and those of the 3,100 employees and their families whose jobs are in jeopardy."  Download Seminole Complaint (1)

The Tribe, which owns the Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood, faces an Oct. 29 deadline to quit operating table games -- blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat -- at five of its seven casinos  because a key provision of the 2010 compact that allows the tribe to operate the games in exchange for payments to the state expired at the end of July.

The agreement remains in force until the end of the month but both the compact, and the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, give the Tribe the right to seek court intervention in the face of a dispute with the state.

Despite ongoing talks, the lawsuit alleges the state is not negotiated in good faith because it has demanded modifications to the remaining provisions of the compact "to substantially increase the Tribe’s payments to the State...without a proportionate increase in economic benefit to the Tribe."

The Tribe has argued that the state has breached the compact by allowing look-alike table games, operating off slot-machine software, to be played at competing casinos in South Florida in violation of its exclusive rights. The lawsuit asks the court to order the state to declare the table games legal, and to negotiate in good faith. 

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation disagrees with the Seminoles' contention and in June asked the tribe to provide them with a "timeline for the closure of banked card games at your tribal facilities" but the tribe has failed to do so, arguing that regulators are violating the deal by allowing the competing games.

Officials from the tribe met with the governor two weeks ago and returned to Tallahassee last week to continue talks with his staff and key legislators. The Tribe has remained silent about the negotiations but sounded optimistic in its statement on Monday.

“Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman James E. Billie is pleased to report significant progress in the Tribe’s negotiations with the Governor and leaders of the Florida Legislature relative to finalizing a new Compact agreement, and the Tribe remains hopeful that a positive outcome will result,'' the statement said. 

Legislators spent this summer and fall negotiating whether to renew, amend or expand the compact, which must be signed by the governor and approved by the legislature.

According to Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, the lead negotiator for the House, they have discussed increasing the revenue to the state by guaranteeing a yearly payment of $200 million to $400 million, based on revenues, over time frames that range from 7 to 20 years. Other options on the table include allowing the Palm Beach County dog track to add slot machines, licensing a new slot machine casino in Miami -- such as Genting, allowing horse and dog tracks to operate card rooms without having to race animals, and numerous other options.

Diaz, who chairs the House Regulated Affairs Committee, told the Herald/Times the matter is complicated because legislators are divided over most of the issues and any final agreement must appease those who want to protect their local parimutuels, tamp down gaming expansion or use the compact to generate more state revenue.

The tribe has previously said it will ignore the October deadline and not only continue operating the games but also continue sending revenue-sharing payments to the state.

Since the first compact was signed with the state in 2010, the tribe has shared more than $1 billion in revenue in exchange for exclusive operation of its card games, and slot machines at its five casinos outside of South Florida.

 

 

October 23, 2015

Animal advocates say they are going to take greyhound fight directly to voters

GreyhoundsStymied for years by broken promises and the tangled politics of gaming in Florida, a coalition of animal advocates announced Friday that it is forming a political committee to pass ballot initiatives that reform and phase out greyhound racing in the state.

The “Committee to Protect Dogs” includes representatives from local animal rights organizations from across the state, and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat.

“Every initiative option is on the table, including a statewide constitutional amendment to prohibit dog racing,’’ said Anjali Sareen of Altamonte Springs, who is chairing the group.

The group’s goal is to push for county-based initiatives to require greyhound injury reporting, stop feeding dogs diseased meat, prohibit the use of anabolic steroids in female greyhounds, and improve housing conditions for race dogs.

“Thousands of greyhounds endure lives of confinement at these facilities, kept in small cages that are barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around,’’ Sareen said in a statement. “This industry is cruel and inhumane, and only exists today because of a government mandate that forces gambling facilities to race dogs.”

Continue reading "Animal advocates say they are going to take greyhound fight directly to voters" »

October 14, 2015

With deadline looming, Seminoles secretly meet with governor to renew compact

With an Oct. 31 deadline looming that would officially end the current multi-million dollar compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe, Gov. Rick Scott secretly met with top officials of the Hard Rock Casinos in his office Wednesday morning.

Officials from the tribe, which own the Hard Rock Casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, flew to Tallahassee on their private jet for the meeting, which the governor had scheduled but did not include on his daily schedule.

A key provision of the 2010 compact that allows the tribe to operate table games such as blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer in exchange for payments to the state, expired at the end of July but, according to the agreement, it remains in force another 90 days -- until Oct. 31.

Legislators spent this summer and fall negotiating whether to renew, amend or expand the compact, which must be signed by the governor and approved by the legislature, said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the lead negotiator for the House.

They discussed increasing the revenue to the state by guaranteeing a yearly payment of $200 million to $400 million, based on revenues, over time frames that range from 7 to 20 years, and numerous other options, but they have approved no details, he said.

“We met a month ago to see if we could agree on the 30,000-foot issues and we didn’t agree,” Diaz told the Herald/Times. Scott’s legal staff has attended most of the negotiations, he said.

Diaz, a Miami Republican who chairs the House Regulated Affairs Committee, said the matter is complicated because legislators are divided over most of the issues and any final agreement must appease those who want to protect their local parimutuels, tamp down gaming expansion or use the compact to generate more state revenue.

“I think this deal lives and dies in the drafting stage,’’ he said. “A compact, a compact extension, or an amendment will require significant lawyering.”

Continue reading "With deadline looming, Seminoles secretly meet with governor to renew compact" »

October 13, 2015

Survey: Floridians remained financially stressed; and most support diplomacy with Cuba

Florida voters remain financially stressed but don’t think they’re being overtaxed and are supportive of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, according to the latest USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey released Tuesday. 

The wide-ranging survey conducted July 30 through Aug. 16 found that 71 percent of all Floridians continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession and identify the economy and jobs as the issue that remains most important to them.  Download Sunshine State Survey 2015 2

But, in the second installment of the survey of 1,251 random adults, people identified the biggest threats to the state economy as loss of jobs, government waste and inefficiency – at both the state and local level – and undocumented residents and workers.

“What this release shows is that Floridians are still stressed economically,’’ said University of South Florida public affairs professor Susan MacManus, who directed the survey. “They are very much still looking somewhat judgmentally, and in a negative fashion, toward state and local leadership. And they are hopeful for attention to transportation and infrastructure.” 

Most people pointed to either investing in education and training or improving the state’s infrastructure – each with 23 percent – as the best way to improve the state’s job climate. Only 15 percent pointed to cutting or limiting taxes and regulations.

The survey shows that support for improving the state’s infrastructure, especially transportation, increased from 17 percent in 2014 to 23 percent this year, while support for cutting or limiting taxes and regulations dropped from 21 percent in 2014 to 15 percent in 2015.

"Along with population growth comes more congestion and longer commutes—which is at least a partial explanation for growing support for infrastructure improvements,'' she said. 

Continue reading "Survey: Floridians remained financially stressed; and most support diplomacy with Cuba" »

August 08, 2015

Seminole Tribe's lawyer: Compact negotiations are 'going nowhere'

With legislators poised to return Monday to Tallahassee, rumors are circling that they are also ready to finish off a deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that expands the multi-million dollar gaming compact with the state in return for more money in the state's pocketbook. 

But, according to a chief negotiator for the Tribe, Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard, such talk is "going nowhere" and the stalemate that began months ago has continued. 

Friday was the deadline for the state to agree to a mediator to settle the dispute from a proposed list of mediators offered to it from the American Arbitration Association. Btu with no response from the governor's general counsel Tim Cerio, the Tribe sent the state a note saying they've picked someone themselves. 

"I don't know what that will do,'' Richard conceded Friday.

The tribe hit a deadline on July 31, when a portion of the  20-year gaming compact that authorizes them to exclusively offer "banked" card games such as blackjack and baccarat at five of its seven casinos expired.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation asked the tribe to provide them with a "timeline for the closure of banked card games at your tribal facilities" but the tribe has failed to do so. Under the 2010 compact with the state,the tribe has 90 days to quit offering the lucrative games.

As part of that deal, the Seminoles also pledged to pay the state a minimum of $1 billion over five years in exchange for the exclusive right to operate the banked card games.

The tribe argues that it is entitled to continue operating the banked games under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act because the state allows electronic versions of blackjack at racinos in South Florida in violation of the exclusivity provisions of the compact.

Last month, it sent the state a "notice of commencement of compact dispute resolution procedures" and asked the state to agree on a mediator under the guidelines outlined in the compact.

Here's the latest letter: Download 8.7.15 Seminole - Mediation Preference

July 27, 2015

As expected, Seminole Tribe awaits showdown with the state over Blackjack

via Gary @Fineout

A deal authorizing blackjack and other types of card games at casinos such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood and Tampa expires Friday.

The state’s top gambling regulator wrote a letter to the tribe chairman Monday asking for a meeting where tribal leaders are expected to give state officials a timeline for closing down blackjack tables.

Ken Lawson, the secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, pointed out that the existing compact requires the tribe to close its blackjack tables within 90 days if legislators do not renew the provision. A proposal to extend the games for one year was considered but did not pass the Florida Legislature. Story here. 

 Update: Sen. Bill Galvano, who was one of the lead negotiators with the Tribe on the original gaming compact, told reporters Monday afternoon that he believes negotiations will resume with the Tribe and they were in the same situation in 2010, when the first compact was invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court. The court ruled their table games in violation of state law and the Tribe sat down and negotiated a deal with the Legislature. 

"I don't think it necessarily means we are headed for litigation,'' said Galvano, R-Bradenton. "This is similar to the position we were in last time before we were able to enter into a deal. I think the state has significant leverage at this point and there's nothing to preclude us from having those negotiations." 

June 24, 2015

Seminole Tribe starts clock on 30-day dispute resolution process over card games

Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman James E. Billie on Wednesday put Gov. Rick Scott on notice that the tribe believes it is entitled to stop paying the state about $216 million a year and to continue offering banked card games unless the state resolves the issue in formal dispute resolution within 30 days.

Under the 2010 gaming compact with the state, the tribe has the exclusive right to operate banked card games -- black jack, baccarat and chemin de fer --  at five of its seven casinos. But under the terms of the 20-year agreement, the tribe is permitted to continue offering banked card games for the full term of the compact if the state permits anyone else to offer such games. If the tribe is no longer the exclusive provider of the games, it also may stop making revenue payments to the state for them -- an estimated loss of about $216 million a year. 

The tribe contends that the state Division of Parimutuel Wagering has violated its right to offer banked card games exclusively in Florida and therefore it is entitled to operate the games even after the provision of the compact that governs the card games expires in July.

The tribe argues that the state triggered this provision by authorizing various video-based blackjack and baccarat stations at non-tribal slot casinos in Miami Dade and Broward counties in February 2011 and by allowing "double hand poker and three card poker" at cardrooms at Ebro Greyhound Park in North Florida, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Racetrack in Hallandale Beach last year. 

Continue reading "Seminole Tribe starts clock on 30-day dispute resolution process over card games" »

May 29, 2015

Court orders state to recognize slot machines in Florida counties with voter approval

From the Associated Press:

Slot machines could be coming to several Florida dog and horse tracks if a far-reaching court ruling holds.

A Florida appeals court Friday ordered state regulators to award a license for slot machines to a north Florida facility located west of the state Capitol.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled by a 2-1 margin that the state improperly denied a slot machine license to a horse track located in Gretna in Gadsden County.

The court said the license should have been granted because Gadsden voters approved a referendum authorizing slots.

The ruling could have a wide impact because voters in several other counties including Lee, Brevard and Palm Beach have approved similar referendums.

State regulators had turned down the slot machine request due to a legal opinion by Attorney General Pam Bondi.

May 01, 2015

Seminole Tribe urges governor and Legislature to resume compact talks

Frustrated by the lack of progress over talks to renew their gaming compact with the state, the Seminole Tribe of Florida sent a letter Friday to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature urging them to resume negotiations to allow them the exclusive right to operate black jack and other card games in exchange for payments to Florida.

"The certainty provided by a multi-year agreement to renew the banked card games would allow the Tribe to move forward with plans to invest over $1.6 billion in capital improvements and hire thousands of new employees,'' the Tribe said in a statement accompanying the letter. "The State would further benefit by receiving billions of dollars in exclusivity payments from the Tribe over the term of the new agreement."  

The Tribe wants to renew the portion of the gaming compact that expires on July 31 that allows them to offer banked card games at five of its seven casinos. Legislative leaders had been in negotiations as recently as last week with tribal lawyers, but those talks ended when the House abruptly adjourned in the face of a budget impasse and left town three days early.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, one of the Senate negotiators, said last week that the two sides had "made some progress." 

On Friday, a majority of the Senate remained in Tallahassee, awaiting word on a lawsuit brought against the House by Senate Democrats. 

“The Tribe remains hopeful that negotiations can commence soon to reach an agreement that will result in favorable action during a special session of the Florida Legislature,'' the  Seminole statement said.

"By letter delivered today to the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, the Tribe has formally renewed its request for negotiations in accordance with the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which requires the State to negotiate with the Tribe in good faith and provides the Tribe with certain remedies if no agreement is reached within 180 days.”

Here's the letter.