TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – House Finance and Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz is pushing changes that would match up a House gambling proposal with an even more-expansive Senate bill, but aligning the two packages may not be enough to keep the measure rolling in the Senate.READ MORE: Unclear How Florida Legislators Will Spend Additional $400 Million In Federal Medicaid Funds
Gaetz said Wednesday morning he plans to introduce a sweeping amendment to the House proposal at his committee’s meeting next week.
The House’s plan currently complements an agreement, called a “compact,” with the Seminole Tribe, struck by tribal leaders and Gov. Rick Scott. Under the compact signed in December, the tribe would be allowed to add craps and roulette to its casino operations in exchange for $3 billion in payments to the state over seven years.
Scott’s agreement with the tribe would also open the door for slots at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and at a new facility in Miami-Dade County, items included in the House plan.
Gaetz’s proposal will mirror one, approved by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee last week, that would allow slot machines in at least five counties where voters have approved them, with more on the horizon. Along with Palm Beach, those counties are Brevard, Gadsden, Lee and Washington.
Like the Senate plan, Gaetz also intends to add language that would require the compact to recognize that fantasy sports — which face allegations of illegal gambling — are legal in Florida. The plan would also allow dog and horse tracks, as well as jai alai operators, to discontinue live races or matches while keeping more lucrative cardrooms or slots, a process known as decoupling.
“It’s time for both chambers to start moving toward one another,” Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said in an interview Wednesday.
But Senate leaders remained skeptical about the future of their chamber’s plan, with time running out before the March 11 scheduled end of the legislative session.
“I don’t know how we unwind it. I think it ends up sitting in committee,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday. Galvano was instrumental in hashing out a deal with the Seminoles in 2010.READ MORE: Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie Arrested, Charged With Perjury
The changes folded into the Senate bill last week would require new negotiations with the Seminoles and could negatively affect the $3 billion revenue share pledged by the tribe. Federal law requires that tribes have “exclusivity” regarding some aspect of gambling in order to justify revenue-sharing agreements with states.
“Because so much of the oxygen is being sucked up by (discussions about) the budget, I think that makes it more difficult for the Senate and the House to work through a complicated gaming bill,” Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Wednesday. “It’s complicated as a stand-alone, but when you add into the fact that we still don’t have allocations and we still don’t have the dates for (budget) conference, I think that makes it a real challenge right now.”
Expanding the number of facilities that could have slots would impact the tribe’s “exclusivity” over the games, currently limited to pari-mutuels in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in addition to the Seminoles’ operations.
The tribe is suing the state in federal court, alleging that gambling regulators have approved pari-mutuel activities that violate a 2010 compact giving the tribe exclusive rights to operate blackjack at most of its casinos. The portion of the compact dealing with the card games expired last summer, but the tribe continues to operate the games.
While the Senate plan would allow the tribe to have exclusive rights to operate craps and roulette, it remains unclear how much the Seminoles would be willing to pay the state if slots are added at more pari-mutuels.
“I’m not interested in any erosion of the tribe’s revenue given to the state,” Gaetz said, adding that the tribe “badly needs” the compact.
“They’re building a national and global brand. They’re trying to demonstrate to other states around the country that they’re good corporate citizens and good partners. I believe that litigation and conflict with the state of Florida is not a good thing for the tribe,” he said.
Apart from the senators’ gloomy prospects for the gambling package, Gaetz said Wednesday he didn’t know yet whether he had the support to move it to the House floor for a full vote.
“I don’t even have a product, much less a vote count,” he said.MORE NEWS: Miami Weather: Expect More Rain In The Afternoon
The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.