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September 24, 2020

The measure is expected to generate us$ 1.3 million for the state in the first five years

Florida Senate approves Indian gaming compact

(US).- A 20-year deal that would give the state a windfall for allowing the Seminole Indians to expand gambling at tribal casinos won approval last Thursday in the Florida Senate.

T

he measure that passed 29-9 is expected to generate nearly us$ 1.3 million for the state in the first five years and more later, if also passed by the House, which has balked at similar previous proposals.

Governor Charlie Crist, who negotiated the compact, said he would sign the bill (SB 622). This is the third time over three years that Crist and the Seminoles have agreed on a compact. "Let us basically put this issue to rest," said the sponsor, Senator Dennis Jones.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected the first deal because the governor tried to implement it without the Legislature's approval. A House committee rejected the second agreement because it allowed more expansion than lawmakers wanted. The same panel, though, has approved the latest compact.

The tribe would get the exclusive right to have blackjack and other table games at three Broward County casinos and two others in Imokalee and Tampa. All seven tribal casinos would be able to keep operating Las Vegas-style slot machines. The compact also is subject to approval by the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees Indian affairs.

The only debate against the measure came from Senator Ronda Storms. She argued it would result in an increase in compulsive gambling and related societal ills including crime and suicide.

She read a resolution in opposition from the Florida Sheriff's Association and statistics indicating about a third of those who call the state's compulsive gambling hot line say they've also committed a crime including fraud, embezzlement and theft. "Whatever the cost it's not worth it for the cost to society," Storms said. She also decried a lack of funding for compulsive gambling treatment.

The Senate defeated a motion by Storms to earmark 1 % of the state's proceeds from the bill to such treatment. Jones opposed it, saying the deal already includes us$ 3 million for compulsive gambling. Storms argued that money is to pay for a hot line and pamphlets, not treatment.

Debating in favor of the bill's passage, Jones said it doesn't expand gaming at all but legalizes existing gambling. "They're already playing," he said.

The tribe expanded gaming at its Florida facilities in 2007 upon reaching the first agreement with Crist. It also has been putting Florida's take in an escrow account that's expected to grow to us$ 288 million by June 30, the end of the current budget year.

Unlike the previous proposals that would have allocated that money to education, the new deal would put those dollars into the state treasury without any restrictions on its use. The bill also provides some financial help for the state's betting industry - horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons - due to the new competition they are getting from the Seminoles.

It would lower taxes from 50 % to 30 % for such facilities outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the only places where pari-mutuels are allowed to have slot machines.

The bill also would lengthen operating hours and set higher limits for card rooms statewide. Pari-mutuels outside Miami-Dade and Broward could add bingo-style and video-lottery machines.

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