The state of Florida and the Seminole Indians have finally agreed on a gaming compact. Governor Charlie Crist signed the bill into law in late April.
The new deal will allow the tribe exclusive rights to casino-style card games like blackjack at five of its seven casinos, including the Hard Rock in Tampa and three casinos in Broward County. In return, the Seminoles will pay more than $1 billion over the next five years. At the end of the term, the state has the option of extending the five-year agreement. A second, 20-year agreement enables the tribe to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines at all seven of its facilities.
“I think everyone will benefit as well as the Seminole tribe,” said Seminole Chairman Mitchell Cypress, of the deal that’s been three years in the making. “It’s been a long journey.”
The compact will pump more than $400 million into the state budget. The Seminoles have already paid $270 million they had held in escrow pending a final deal; they will pay a minimum of $150 million to $200 million per year through 2015. That money will help to cover part of the state’s gaping budget deficit. While Crist has long touted the use of gaming revenues for public education, the latest version of the deal sends the money to the general fund.
The state’s 27 dog tracks, horse tracks and jai-alai frontons also won some concessions. Tracks and frontons in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which have voter-approved slot machines, will see their tax rate slashed from 50 percent to 35 percent.
Other tracks and frontons will get a chance to expand their existing poker games, set higher limits and open for longer hours. They also will be allowed to install 350 electronic bingo or instant racing machines at each of their facilities.
The new compact could lead to the expansion of the Seminole casino empire, said Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming.
“It creates a real incentive for us to expand, hire more people and create more destinations,” Allen told the Tribune.
The new compact gives the state “an opportunity to catch our breath,” said House negotiator Bill Galvano. “At that point we know what the deal is and we have the ability to decide if banked card games are something we want in our borders.”
State lawmakers and outside investors like Sheldon Adelson of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. have spoken publicly about creating destination casinos in places like Miami. That could make Florida the Las Vegas of the Southeast, according to the Palm Beach Post.
“That’s a very real probability, yes,” Galvano told the Post.