he House and Senate passed a bill (SB 788) Friday that sets guidelines for a compact with the tribe and authorizes Crist to work out the final details.
The votes come a year and a half after Crist signed a compact with the tribe that's similar to the proposed deal lawmakers approved. Under the proposal going to Crist, the tribe would be able to run blackjack and other card games at their three Broward County casinos and the Hard Rock in Tampa. They would be able to install Las Vegas-style slots at all seven of their casinos, which also include locations in Big Cypress, Immokalee and Brighton.
The Florida Legislature approved the further expansion of poker in the state, including the removal of a maximum buy-in for no-limit poker and the elimination of a maximum bet per round in limit games. The new bill allows cardrooms to be open 18 hours a day Mondays through Fridays, and 24 hours on the weekends.
The gambling age in Seminole casinos increases from 18 to 21, matching the minimum age found elsewhere. Another cardroom in Miami-Dade county will be added, as Hialeah Park will be reopened to offer quarterhorse racing after capital improvements are performed at the historical landmark, which was closed in 2001.
In exchange, the state will get at least us$ 150 million a year from the tribe - if it accepts the deal. The proposal isn't quite as good for the tribe as the one the Supreme Court said Crist wasn't authorized to sign in November 2007. That deal allowed blackjack and slots at all seven casinos and the minimum the tribe agreed to give the state was us$ 100 million a year.
The legislative leaders at the time, House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt, went to the Supreme Court to challenge the agreement. Under the Crist deal, the tribe went ahead and set up the slot machines and blackjack, which it is still running.
If the tribe agrees to the deal and the federal government agrees to the deal, the money will be used to help pay for state schools.
"Today, we move closer to reaching an agreement that will support education, put unemployed Floridians back to work and bring economic relief to our state," the tribe said in a statement. "We remain hopeful that together with Governor Crist and the Legislature, we can agree upon a Compact."
Senate President Jeff Atwater said the tribe probably won't get much better than what the proposal offers. "This is a deal that they should take seriously and quickly negotiate and bring closure to," Atwater said. And if they do, he recommends a special session to ratify the deal so the state can get its money as soon as possible.
Horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons also get something from the bill. Also, South Florida pari-mutuels where voters have already approved slot machines will have their tax rate on the slots profits reduced from 50 % to 35 %. They'll also be able to run blackjack and other card games if voters approve.
"There were some people who would have liked more and some people would have liked to see a few things differently but all in all they did a great job," said Dan Adkins, president of Mardi Gras Gaming at the Hallandale Beach dog track.
It can also lead to the reopening of historic Hialeah Park. The track opened in 1925 and has been visited by the likes of Winston Churchill. Some say it's like baseball's Fenway Park to the racing world. It's last live race was held in 2001.
The owner has a quarterhorse racing permit and Representative Esteban Bovo said the bill will allow Hialeah to open a poker room, and eventually slot machines if the owner prepares it for live racing. They would only have to run 20 races the first year. "It sets up for a really nice opportunity here for the racetrack and to bring it back," said Bovo.
Crist praised lawmakers for coming to an agreement on a proposed compact, which was one of his session priorities. "I now look forward to working closely with the Seminole Tribe to help secure the continued success of Florida's students and teachers, and complete the work accomplished by the Florida Legislature," Crist said in a prepared statement. "Florida's future is brighter and stronger as a result of today's agreement."
The laws in place today were established in 2007, when no-limit poker was introduced to Florida. However, the law had a maximum buy-in of us$ 100, which meant the biggest game being spread was a us$ 5/10 NL game. Shortly after the law passed, the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood interpreted this law a bit differently from the others, allowing players to make repeated us$ 100 buy-ins.
Players then rebought quickly to build stacks with thousands of dollars in chips, creating a deep-stacked game that brought many to the tables for the five days the game ran. After being pressured by Florida officials, Hard Rock gaming executives reinterpreted their first interpretation and returned to the state's mandated and restricted us$ 100 maximum buy-in.