Panel Grills Governor’s Staff On Compact Details
While Florida lawmakers are preparing to put together a budget for the coming fiscal year, some are wondering how a proposed $3-billion gaming agreement might fit in.
After the gambling agreement allowing the tribe to offer blackjack in casinos expired last July, Gov. Rick Scott says he took his time negotiating a new compact so he could get the best deal for Florida. And Scott says with the new proposed agreement, he’s been successful. Jeff Woodburn, the governor’s director of policy explains why.
“It includes a $3-billion guarantee to the state of Florida. This is three times the current compact’s $1-billion guarantee. This is also the biggest guarantee that a tribe has guaranteed to any state in the United States. So this is really an historic number. This compact also generates jobs and investment in the state of Florida. For the first time it also includes a cap on the amount of gaming that the Seminole Tribe may offer at their facilities,” Woodburn says.
And Woodburn touts provisions that provide policy flexibility for the legislature—allowing lawmakers to, for example, make moves like decoupling pari-mutuel activity and horse or dog racing.
But some, like Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), question the motives behind the agreement. Latvala says he’s heard from the governor’s office that a smaller state revenue surplus than expected isn’t likely to impact Scott's push for a billion dollars in tax cuts, since that money could be made up through the Seminole compact.
“So what could happen, conceivably if we pass this compact is we would generate this revenue, but then this revenue could conceivably immediately go out in a tax cut for C corporations,” Latvala says.
And Latvala questions how the negotiators arrived at some of the carve outs included in the compact – like a provision that would allow some pari-mutuels to operate slot machines, but would create a breach of contract if others do.
“So regardless of the fact that people in Collier or Lee, Gadsden and Washington, Hamilton and Brevard have voted to allow slot machines, basically this compact that you’ve negotiated says, ‘no, we don’t care.’ And you’ve taken care of Palm Beach, but you haven’t taken care of the other counties,” Latvala says.
Meanwhile, Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) questions the idea that the compact will limit the expansion of gaming. She says adding new a license and increasing the number of slots and table games at tribe casinos doesn’t seem like a limit. Woodburn claims it is.
“So [under the] current compact they can do whatever they want in terms of the amount of the machines. This compact it’s restricted. They can only go up to this amount. In terms of the Miami Dade, it’s an issue that it doesn’t violate exclusivity, the final decision obviously lays with the legislature. They can choose to exercise that or not. The option of limiting gaming is there. In terms of providing a framework, it actually does scale back more than the current compact as well. But even if you did go that route, you can’t go beyond that,” Woodburn says.
Meanwhile, Jim Allen, Seminole Gaming CEO, says lawmakers should remember citizens’ jobs are on the line. The part of the current compact that lets the tribe offer games like black jack has expired. And there’s an argument that the tribe should be allowed to continue that even if lawmakers don’t approve the new compact. But Allen says the courts could disagree.
“If the court obviously rules that we were in violation of operating these table games after July 31 st, we obviously would need to remove these table games and lay these individuals off. And it is not a layoff in the tradition of there might be another opportunity. There is no other opportunity. So this obviously will have a rippling effect through the economy of the state of Florida,” Allen says.
But the new proposal reinstates the tribe’s right to offer black jack games, meaning the approval of the agreement would allow the tribe to avoid those layoffs.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers are wondering about another option—allowing the tribe to continue as it is, with no new gaming agreement and instead letting pari-mutuels offer enhanced gaming options. That would mean the state would stop getting money from the tribe, and some wonder whether that could be made up by taxes from the pari-mutuels. Lawmakers are asking the state’s economists to look into that question.
Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.