Florida gambling expansion Gov. Rick Scott Seminole tribe

Will they or won’t they pass non-Indian gaming legislation in Florida this year? That is the question that Gov. Rick Scott is trying to answer (Image: AP)

When you think of Florida and the Seminoles, your mind may turn to Florida State’s championship football team. But the tribe has a lot more importance in the Sunshine State than that. There are a lot of moving parts that are critical to the future of gambling in the state of Florida, but none of them are nearly as important as the renewal of the compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state; one that is worth billions of dollars and defines what is allowed in gambling venues throughout Florida.

Let’s Make a Deal

Right now, the Florida legislature is closing in on an agreement for a plan that would allow for new non-Indian tribe casinos to be built in South Florida, pending voter approval. But that plan can only come together if Governor Rick Scott is able to pen a new deal with the Seminoles, as the state’s current compact with the tribe will not end until well into 2015.

Luckily for those with a vested interest in Florida’s gambling industry, the word out of the Scott administration suggests that things are going well on that front.

“Governor Scott is focused on renewing the state’s compact with the Seminoles to get the best deal for Floridians,” said spokesman Frank Collins. “Other gaming issues, including destination casinos, are being discussed by members of the Legislature, but the governor’s immediate focus is the future of the Seminole compact.”

If that compact can get signed, then the two-part plan for House Speaker Will Weatherford could come together. Ultimately, he’d like to see two destination resort-style casino projects built in South Florida. But that can only happen if an agreement is reached with the Seminoles, and Weatherford has said that if that deal isn’t finalized this year, the whole plan will fall apart.

Exclusivity for Some Table Games

The Seminole compact is a relatively new one, but a lucrative agreement for both sides. After two decades of negotiations and maneuvering, the tribe struck a deal with Governor Scott in 2010, giving the Seminoles the exclusive right to offer “banked card games” like baccarat and blackjack for five years.

The deal also requires the Seminoles to pay the state $1 billion over the five-year period the compact covers. However, they can reduce those payments if slot machines are spread to other venues in Broward or Miami-Dade counties, and they can cut off the payments entirely if any slot machines exist outside of those counties.

With the legislative session starting on March 4 and lasting just 60 days, time is a factor in the negotiations between the state and the tribe. The Seminoles would like to add roulette and craps to their offerings, while the state may look for concessions in exchange that would allow for more privately operated gambling throughout the state. Those complications may make it difficult to get approval from lawmakers in the coming session.

“It’s not something that can be done very quickly unless we’re just approving the cards to continue,” said State Senator Bill Galvano. “The compact is the cornerstone of anything we build going forward…and that could create a time issue for us going forward on other aspects of gambling.”

Even if the compact is signed, there are still some divisions between the House and Senate over the future of gaming in the state. While the Senate is ready to act, the House seems less interested in taking up the issue on its own. That means that both the compact and a Senate bill would likely have to be completed before the House would even consider expanded gambling legislation, tightening the timeline for these plans even further.