Revised Seminole Compact – A Weak Proposition to Boost Gambling in Florida

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, the Florida House of Representatives have decided to put the revised Seminole Compact on the agenda for their Friday floor session.

The Seminole Compact is a piece of legal documentation, required under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act on 1988 (IGRA), which has been drawn up between the Seminole tribe of Florida and the State of Florida. Like all other compacts of this nature, it acts to provide a balance between the two political entities and allow them to make joint business agreements.

122 pages of proposed committee substitutions to the Seminole Compact had been added to the agenda of the 2016 gambling-related legislation meeting, of the House Finance and Tax Committee, last Sunday; the alterations promise to keep the core of the compact intact, while expanding gambling opportunities throughout the state of Florida.

Proposed revisions to the new gambling deal (HB 7109), set for consideration last Monday, saw alteration to allow slot machines in five of their six counties –Brevard, Gadsden, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington, where voters approved gambling in their local referendums, and distribution of new pari-mutuel permits only in Miami-Dade County. It would also legalise the “designated player games” form of poker at all pari-mutuels. Blackjack will be expanded to Miami-Dade and Broward counties but with a $25 limit on bets. Lastly, it would also allow dog and horse tracks to run fewer live races to make way for more profitable card rooms and slot machines. If the revised compact gains legislative and federal approval, the Seminoles would be able keep their exclusive rights to blackjack for a price of $3 billion paid to the state over seven years.

The legislation was placed on the “special order” calendar, where members ask questions and offer amendments, but no vote is taken until the next floor session.

Jose Felix Diaz, state representative of Florida and the House’s lead member on gambling for 2016, stated that the decision to add this to the agenda was to ensure all options were kept available. However, he also reaffirmed that there was no certainty that the bill would be considered by the chamber.

The compact later collapsed in the Florida Senate amidst disagreements between state officials and gaming advocates. Lawmakers tried to pile on multiple concessions of additional gambling opportunities, resulting in too many factions pulling the bill in different directions. With all the add-ons expanding gambling’s reach in the state, there weren’t enough votes in any of the Legislature’s factions to approve the revised measures but it is important to note that Legislative Session’s final days can be unpredictable.

Tom Lee, chair of the senate’s appropriations committee, stated that his committee had removed the compact from their agenda and with the conflicting stance amongst the people involved, it was perhaps the wrong time to pass these gambling legislations. He also added that if there were enough items left on the agenda, the revised compact could be revived on a meeting on Thursday.

Neither Gary Bitner, spokesman for Seminole Tribe of Florida, nor House Speaker, Steve Crisafulli has addressed gambling in comments to the media.

Senate President, Andy Gardiner, stated that “Gaming bills tend to die of their own weight,” and that his chamber’s version of the Compact and gambling legislation “will be for another day, and for somebody else to handle.

However, the Seminole Compact and a proposed constitutional amendment on voter control of gambling are currently on the agenda for Friday’s House Floor session.

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