Gaming interests in northeastern Florida have joined their peers down south to voice their opposition to Governor Charlie Crist’s proposed compact with the Seminole Indians.
The latest version of the highly anticipated compact, delivered just before the August 31 deadline, would allow blackjack and other banked card games at all seven of the tribe’s Florida casinos, not just four as lawmakers had previously demanded.
But it would also net $150 million a year in revenue for the state, or 12 percent of the tribe’s net gaming profits, whichever is more, for a total of at least $6.8 billion over 20 years. The money is earmarked for education, Crist says.
In addition to Class III slots and card games like blackjack and baccarat, the tribe also would get the exclusive rights to some games outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Now it’s up to the legislature to decide, and Crist said he is optimistic about their response, which could come during a special session in October.
“I believe that it’s close enough to what the legislature wants that it ought to be able to obtain their approval,” the governor said. “I hope they will, because I know it’s good for the kids.”
But the state’s parimutuels say that giving the Seminoles exclusivity outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties would constitute an unfair advantage and, in effect, prevent any expansion of gaming for years to come.
Michael Munz of Jacksonville Greyhound Racing told the Florida Times-Union that the proposed compact could be a money-loser in the long term.
“Why would you have a compact that you pass today that restricts what you can do tomorrow?” he asked.
Some lawmakers say if the Seminole pact hurts the parimutuels, which also pay taxes, at least part of the benefit to the state would be canceled out.
“It matters how we treat the parimutuels,” said Rep. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat.
The agreement included some concessions to the parimutuel sites, including lower taxes and expanded 24-hour poker.
But giving the tribe a 20-year monopoly on casino games in the rest of the state will not go down easily in the parimutuel industry, which currently employs almost 25,000 people.
Despite Crist’s close alliance with the Indians, the state’s 27 parimutuels have political clout of their own. They jointly generate $1.3 billion in revenue and pay more than $160 million in taxes each year. And since 2008, they have spent at least $5 million lobbying state officials, five times more than the Seminoles.
The legislature is scheduled to return to Tallahassee during the week of October 5 for pre-session committee meetings. It is unclear so far if they will weigh in on the proposed compact at that time.
But Senate President Jeff Atwater is in no hurry to ratify the controversial deal, said his spokeswoman Jaryn Emhoff.
“Until we finish that and have a good idea of what’s in it, any talk of a special session is very premature,” she told the Democrat.