Take a close look, and you’ll find there’s a lot that needs fixing in Florida’s gambling industry. Greyhounds are needlessly perishing, pari-mutuels are exorbitantly taxed, and the State Legislature is so focused on the 2016 election year that no one wants to spearhead a movement to fix it. The end result was the expiration of the Seminoles’ State Gambling Compact that permitted banked table games like blackjack and baccarat.
For the last five years, the Seminole Tribe has had exclusive rights to host live banked table games in the state. In exchange, the tribe has been delivering revenue share to Florida’s coffers. The deal helped produce $2.1 billion for the Seminoles last year, equating to about $130 million for the state.
Renegotiations were going strong earlier this year, but stalled when legislation to authorize Las Vegas-style destination gambling was introduced. That measure suffered a quick and painless death, but Gov. Rick Scott failed to show any interest in renegotiating the tribe’s compact henceforth.
As of July 31, the tribe has been given 90 days to remove all live table games from its casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood, among others. But whether they intend to do so is another matter—a legal matter, in fact.
The Florida tribe has already sought litigation against the state. According to Tribal Chairman Jim Billie, Florida already breached the contract by allowing electronic blackjack games at some of its racinos. Billie argues that the electronic versions look, feel and play exactly like the variety that’s supposed to be exclusively offered at their casinos.
According to state law, electronic table games are defined as ‘slot machines’ because they are powered by a random number generator. But if the courts find these machines to be the same as live banked table games, it would give the tribe the right to continue offering live blackjack without paying shared revenue to the state.
Mediation could resolve the issue to everyone’s benefit, but the timing must be precise. Legislators are on summer break, but will return in the fall, before the 90 days is up. When that time comes, they can either face lengthy litigation in federal court wherein the tribe may just win the right to present live table games without delivering a single penny to the state, or they can negotiate a new compact acquiesce to the needs of all.
The Seminoles have already shown good faith by escrowing the revenue share that would normally be paid to Florida’s state and local governments. The tribe has no desire to cease operating blackjack tables, and would certainly be willing to continue paying for them; possibly at a higher rate than before—something the state could surely use—so long as a few other needs are met along the way.
The tribe would love to begin hosting roulette and craps tables, and may look to swing the opening of a new casino in Fort Peirce into the negotiations as well.
Florida has collected over $1 billion from the tribal gaming compact since it went into effect in 2010, giving them every reason to want to work with the tribe to come to an agreement; sooner rather than later.
It’s impossible to think that both parties will get everything they want, but with elections coming up next year, appeasing the taxpayers is just as important, if not more so. And the last thing taxpayers want is to fund yet another long-term court battle due to the senseless wrangling of state lawmakers.