Broward News

Four Reasons Rick Scott's Proposed Gambling Deal With the Seminoles Fell Through

Back on December 7, when Gov. Rick Scott announced that he'd come to an agreement for a gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe, legislators and casino experts warned of potholes, roadblocks, and barriers en route to the necessary legislative approval.

With only days remaining in this year’s legislative session, apparently the final resting place for the proposal looks to be the Senate Appropriations Committee, where on Thursday, Committee Chairman Tom Lee again declined to bring up the bill. The session ends March 11, and the proposed seven-year, $3 billion agreement is sidelined.

What happened?

Legislators outside of South Florida wanted gambling too. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, added an amendment that would allow the six counties that approved referenda to also have slots. The problem is, the compact with the Seminoles calls for slot exclusivity outside of South Florida. (Tampa is really their cash cow.) Adding those slots in the method Negron suggested went against Florida’s methodology. It took a statewide referendum in 2004 – which barely passed, with 50.8 percent – then separate county votes, which faced opposition campaigns, for slots to be approved in Broward and Miami-Dade. Just having the Legislature approve slots in another part of the state drew rightful objections from other legislators.

Other legislators outside of South Florida didn’t want gambling. They said the compact, which would have allowed for craps and roulette at Seminole casinos, would have harmed the state’s family-friendly image. The Seminoles wanted the additional games to attract more international guests to the hotels in Tampa and Hollywood, even though their gambling revenues are minimal. Those two games were projected to earn $40 million annually, a fraction of the tribe’s $2.4 billion take statewide. But it was just enough fuel for those who frame the compact as “expansion.”

The Legislature didn’t care about helping Gov. Rick Scott. Scott funded his own campaign, ousting the party’s favorite in the Republican primary back in 2008, and has always struggled to work and play well with others. For example, when he announced December 7 that he and the tribe had reached a compact agreement, hours earlier, Senate President Andy Gardiner was quoted as saying he didn’t think the governor and the tribe were close at all to a compact. There were very few legislators out there who, strictly as a favor to Scott, supported the compact.

Legislators flipped too many switches, pushed too many buttons. Interests from racinos, the horseracing industry, and other facets of Florida somehow convinced some legislators that the compact and all other tweaks to the gambling landscape in Florida needed to be linked. They did not and still do not. The Legislature could have passed just the compact and worked out the pari-mutuel questions, such as whether to allow the decoupling of racing and casinos, how much to reduce slot taxes and details of blackjack at pari-mutuels later. Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley probably put it best: “The bill had a lot of ornaments added to it, and the tree eventually gets too many ornaments and it falls over,” Bradley told Tallahassee reporters Tuesday.
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Nick Sortal is South Florida’s expert journalist when it comes to the gambling scene. He covered the openings, expansions, poker tournaments, entertainment, and human-interest facets of the industry for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel from 2007 until taking a buyout in November 2015, capping a 30-year career that included state and national awards and features about naked yoga. He now writes a weekly column for the Miami Herald and also reports about gambling on his site, The Southern Illinois native worked for papers in St. Louis and Indianapolis before joining the Sun Sentinel in 1985. He likes triathlons, country music, basketball, and bragging about his family.
Contact: Nick Sortal