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Abruzzo bill would replace resort casinos with more $ from Seminoles

In an attempt to shift the debate from Miami casinos to the state’s bottom line, Rep. Joe Abruzzo is filing a bill Wednesday to direct Gov. Rick Scott to give the Seminole Tribe exclusive operation of casino games in Florida for 15 more years in exchange for an annual guarantee of  $750 million. Story here.

The four-page bill would authorize the governor to re-open the 20-year gambling compact signed in 2009 by Gov. Charlie Crist that now requires the Seminole Tribe of Florida to guarantee $1 billion in the first five years and in return gives the tribe the exclusive right to offer black jack in Miami Dade and Broward and slot machines in counties outside of South Florida.

Abruzzo said that his proposal essentially maintains the status quo for gambling but increases the amount of money the tribe would pay the state. Dave Ramba, lobbyist for the Seminole Tribe, said they hadn’t seen the bill but were open to it.

“If they want to discuss bringing the state more revenue or changing the terms of the agreement, we look forward to the discussion,’’ Ramba said. “If it’s about money, let’s talk money.”

If lawmakers approve the resort casino concept, the Tribe would cease payments to the state from its casinos in South Florida but would continue to pay the state unless casinos were allowed outside of Miami-Dade and Broward.

Abruzzo, a West Palm Beach Democrat, opposes the casino proposal introduced by Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff as a weak trade-off for the state’s bottom line. State economists estimated last week that, based on preliminary data, the state would see a modest increase in revenue of between $4 million to $102 million a year from the construction and operation of three $2 billion resort casino developments.

“It’s not the best deal for Florida,’’ Abruzzo told the Herald/Times. “A 10 percent tax rate, a $50 million licensing fee and not giving parity and consideration to businesses that have been operating in Florida for years is a bad deal.’’

Abruzzo, a gambling supporter, has also filed a local bill that would allow the Palm Beach County Kennel Club to start offering slot machines – a measure that, if passed, would violate the current gambling compact with the state.

Abruzzo was the only freshman to serve on the 2009 legislative committee that reviewed the gambling compact with the Seminoles and voted against it at the time. He said he believes it was a bad deal for the state that allowed the tribe, whose revenues are estimated to be $2 billion a year, to pay on average only $150 million to the state in exchange for exclusive operations of black jack, chemin de fer and baccarat in South Florida, and the exclusive operation of slots games in other counties.

 “I maintain the minimum should have been $500 million,” he said.

“I’m pro-gaming so the expansion of the resort casinos is not an issue to me but for those it is an issue, this still maintains what is a deal but would not be that massive of an expansion,’’ he said. “Clusters of neighborhoods based around gaming would not be popping up outside of what already exists within Indian reservations.”

The Seminole Tribe said Tuesday it is one payment away from the $500 million mark in gaming compact payments made to the state. The tribe began monthly payments to the state in 2008, following federal approval of the first compact signed between the tribe and Crist. The compact was then rejected by a court and the current one went into effecting 2010.