Seminoles elevate gambling fight

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Hours before a House leader unleashed a sweeping gambling overhaul that pointedly failed to include the Seminole Indians, the tribe began airing a television ad in the capital city reminding viewers about a $1 billion deal struck with the state five years ago.

The 30-second ad hit the air in Tallahassee on Monday, just as lawmakers returned to the Capitol for Tuesday’s 2015 legislative kick-off. The ad will also run statewide.

Also Monday, House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, released a mammoth bill that would effectively put an end to the deal with the Seminoles, who have dumped more than $2 million into campaign contributions over the past two years, including $500,000 to “Let’s Get to Work,” a political committee backing Gov. Rick Scott.

‘Compact’ to expire
Lawmakers are poised to consider a gambling deal this year because a portion of the deal with the Seminoles, called a “compact,” giving the tribe exclusive rights to offer banked card games like blackjack at most of its facilities expires in mid-July unless the Legislature reauthorizes the pact.

“Nearly five years ago, the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida approved an historic compact to make sure that gaming was controlled, profitable and safe for more than 19 million Floridians, backed by an international reputation for excellence and financial soundness,” the ad says.

“The return on investment, bigger than promised. And more than $1 billion for things like education, health care and veterans’ services. The Seminole compact. A partnership that works for Florida.”

Young’s plan would open the door to two Las Vegas-style casinos in Broward or Miami-Dade counties, which would do away with about $116 million a year in revenue-sharing the Seminoles now pay to the state for the card games.

Young’s proposal would also permit two pari-mutuels outside of South Florida to begin operating slots, which would violate a 20-year portion of the deal giving the Seminoles exclusive rights to the one-armed bandits outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Federal law, however, would allow the tribe to continue to run slots and the banked cards as long as the games were being offered elsewhere in the state.

Young promised that revenue from her plan – which would require the “destination resorts” to spend at least $2 billion on capital costs and pay the state $175 million a year – would exceed the $255 million the Seminoles paid to the state last year.

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