December 08, 2015

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. 

Continue reading "Gardiner: Still no plans to include card games compact money in 2016 budget" »

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. 

October 31, 2015

Seminole Tribe keeps dealing black jack despite lawsuit, and why the state predicted this in 2012


A day after the state of Florida filed the expected lawsuit against the Seminole Tribe on Friday, the tribe continued to deal cards at its Hard Rock casinos in Tampa and Hollywood as it became clear that both sides had blown the Oct. 31 negotiations deadline.

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.

But 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. 

Although the tribe contends that talks with the state to re-negotiate the table games provision are going well, and agreement with Florida legislators is getting close, it nonetheless filed a lawsuit on Monday in federal court making their claim, and including some boilerplate language about the state not negotiating in good faith.

Continue reading "Seminole Tribe keeps dealing black jack despite lawsuit, and why the state predicted this in 2012" »

October 27, 2015

Group proposes constitutional amendment of gambling in Florida


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.