Florida Lawmakers Mulling Special Session to Address Gambling

Posted on: March 30, 2018, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: March 30, 2018, 12:23h.

Florida lawmakers are considering reconvening in the state capital of Tallahassee for a special session to discuss casinos and parimutuel gambling, and who gets to offer what at their venues.

Florida lawmakers casino gambling
Florida lawmakers Wilton Simpson (left) and Bill Valvano might soon be required to return to Tallahassee in order to settle differences among the Legislature regarding the Seminoles’ gaming compact. (Image: Hali Tauxe/Tallahassee Democrat)

The Florida Legislature adjourned for 2018 three weeks ago without coming to terms on a new gaming compact with the powerful Seminole Tribe.

Leaders in both chambers say the issue is so critical to the financial health of the state that they may call a special legislative session.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano (R) said no final decision on whether to reconvene has been made, but added in a statement, “During the final weeks of session, the House and Senate made significant progress towards resolving a number of issues surrounding gaming.”

Through its revenue-sharing gaming compact, the Seminole Tribe paid the state more than $290 million during the last fiscal year. In exchange, the Native American casinos possess exclusivity on house-banked games, most notably blackjack.

Seminole Semi-Threat Looms

During the 2018 legislative session, state lawmakers failed to approve a proposed gaming compact from Governor Rick Scott (R) that would have guaranteed the state $3 billion over seven years in exchange for the tribe maintaining their monopoly on blackjack, as well as being afforded craps and roulette.

Opposition arose from lawmakers representing counties where voters and local councils passed resolutions that sought to allow slot machines and so-called “designated player games” at parimutuel facilities.

Designated player games are a sort of blackjack and poker hybrid where gamblers take turns playing as the house.

The Seminoles’ gaming compact officially expired in 2015. The tribe has continued to make payments as if the terms have not changed.

The tribe wants to maintain their house-banked card games monopoly, though the organization rarely comments publicly on legal matters. However, this week tribal outside counsel Barry Richard told FloridaPolitics that he’s never known the Seminoles “to be vindictive or unreasonable.”

“The fact that the Legislature didn’t do anything doesn’t mean they’re (Seminoles) not interested in talking,” Richard asserted. “They don’t want to change their relationship with the state. They’ll only do it (stop sharing gaming revenue) if they perceive circumstances to be a meaningful threat to their economic well-being.”

People in Control

If Florida lawmakers want to have the final say in determining the future of gambling in the Sunshine State, they might be wise to reconvene as soon as possible. Come November, voters will be presented a question asking if they wish to strip the Legislature of such power.

The Voter Control of Gambling Initiative, a campaign funded by Disney and the Seminoles, successfully placed a constitutional ballot referendum inside voting booth’s next fall after obtaining the required 766,200 resident signatures.

Voters will be asked if they want the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.” For the measure to pass, the question will need to receive at least 60 percent support.

Disney seeks to keep gambling in its current state, as it believes casinos encroaching on the Orlando area could jeopardize the family-friendly image of its resorts. A recent poll found that more than 80 percent of likely voters will back the gambling initiative.