After nearly a year of failed negotiations and accusations of intentional stalling, Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe have finally come to an agreement on a new State Tribal Gambling Compact. The agreement is not set in stone yet, requiring the approval of legislators, but if accepted in 2016, the tribe has inserted an interesting notation that it would not be opposed to the regulation of internet gambling in Florida.
The issue of online betting has never been highlighted in the long-fought-over minutiae of the gaming compact, thus it’s interesting to see the topic arise in what could become a 20-year deal between the state and its largest tribal casino community. However, it would take a lot more than the Seminoles’ professed acquiescence to internet gambling regulation to get the ball rolling in that direction.
More pressing stipulations at the surface of the compact revolve around the game of blackjack, and the amount of money Florida is guaranteed to receive for providing the tribe with exclusive rights to offer the game in a live dealer format.
Details of the New Compact
According to the terms of the new agreement, the Seminoles would retain such exclusive rights to offer blackjack card games at seven of their prominent, South Florida casino. In turn, Florida’s coffers would be guaranteed $3 billion over seven years (up from $1 billion over 5 years, as provided in the previous compact).
Additionally, the tribe agreed to contribute a minimum of $1.75 million per year to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling. They also secured the rights to install roulette and craps tables at the seven largest Seminole-owned casinos.
In exchange for all that, the Seminoles agreed to allow blackjack tables at some non-tribal casinos throughout South Florida, “with some limitations”, and agreed to the installation of slot machines at Palm Beach Kennel Club.
Support and Opposition
Gov. Scott extolled the terms of the new State Tribal Gaming Compact as the “largest revenue share guarantee in history.” But before it goes into effect, it must pass the 160-strong Florida Legislature, and the scrutiny of US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. And as of right now, not everyone seems so inclined to accept the deal, especially with an election year on the horizon.
Leading the opposition is John Sowinski, President of Florida’s anti-gambling expansion group, No Casinos. “In its current form, this agreement would significantly expand gambling both on and off tribal property and we cannot support it,” said Sowinski, who intends to request lawmakers reject the agreement come 2016.
Senator Rob Bradley, who serves as Florida’s Chairman of Regulated Industries, agrees that gambling expansion would be bad for the state, but doesn’t see this new compact in the same light as the anti-gambling group.
“I’m not a fan of expansion, either,” said Bradley, “But this is a good, fair deal for the taxpayer that will provide money for health care, transportation, education and other core services, and I look forward to the next step” – obtaining the approval of legislators.
Bradley noted that a companion bill is in the works that would provide for the contraction of gambling, utilizing a portion of the additional revenue to buy back statewide gambling permits.
Odds of Approval
In terms of getting the new compact passed, Nick Iarossi, a former lobbyist for the Las Vegas Sands Corp, which failed in a year-long campaign to bring destination casinos to Florida, made one of the most logical points of all.
“It’s easy to negotiate with two parties,” Iarossi said, indicating the negotiations between the Governor and Seminole Tribe. “Now imagine having to do it with 160 parties,” referring to the number of senators and representatives currently serving on the Florida Legislature.
Internet Gambling on Florida’s Horizon?
As I said before, the simple fact that the Seminole Tribe has attested its acquiescence to future internet gambling regulation in Florida is little more than a side-note in the overall terms of the agreement. However, the fact that online betting was mentioned at all raises the question as to whether Gov. Scott is also considering the benefits of regulation.
Then again, being an election year, impending political agendas will ultimately prevail. Once the new group of state leaders take office, the potential for legalized internet gambling will become more clear.
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