Had Legislators Followed Rick Scott a Year Ago, Gambling Mess Would've Been Over

A full year after Florida Gov. Rick Scott proposed a monumental gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the opportunity seems lost.

Rather than pay $3 billion for the next seven years, the Seminoles are in a position to pay zero for the next 14. A U.S. judge ruled in November that because some Florida card rooms, with permission from the state, offered blackjack-like games under the name “poker,” a vital portion of the compact was voided, so the Seminoles could offer blackjack and other table games — without paying Florida — through 2030.

The tribe had been paying $250 million annually. Now it doesn't have to fork out a cent. The state earns only about $1.5 million annually from the games, so it has lost out about $248.5 million. Ouch.

That Scott proposal from December 2015, which died in a legislative committee, also would have enabled South Florida horse tracks, dog tracks, and jai-alai frontons to offer blackjack (with a $15 maximum bet per hand) and added slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.

Also note that the Florida Supreme Court is sitting on a case that could wreak even more havoc. Gretna Racing, based in northwest Florida, is arguing it should be allowed to have slots because voters approved that via a referendum. If Gretna gets slots, five other Florida counties that approved similar referenda would likely sue – and that would dent the Seminoles’ exclusivity outside of South Florida.

The Florida legislature doesn’t meet until March of next year. Legislative leaders, naturally, have spoken eagerly about reaching an agreement with the Seminoles. What do they have to lose?

But they need a reality check. Florida House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran has said lawmakers again will consider a gambling agreement with the Seminoles, but he also wants a reduction in gambling. Hey, good luck with that.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles are prepping for their second chairman election after ousting James Billie in September.

Members complained that the winner of an October 31 vote, Marcellus W. Osceola, Jr., did not meet residency requirements because he had been living temporarily off the Hollywood reservation.

The tribal council handles all Seminole affairs, including selecting executives to oversee the seven casinos, which garner more than $2 billion annually. That revenue is shared among the tribe’s 4,000 members. Those familiar with the situation say the selection of a chairman likely will not affect gambling decisions, which are overseen by Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen.

Mark Twain noted that “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” Here in Florida, we don’t have to wait that long.

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