Florida Governor Rick Scott has sealed a deal with the powerful Seminole tribe that will see it continue to make payments totaling $300 million to the state throughout 2019, despite the lack of an official compact.
“Today, I am proud to announce that the state of Florida has reached an agreement with the Seminole Tribe which ensures the tribe’s current commitment remains intact,” announced Scott in an official statement.
“Since I took office, the (2010) Seminole compact has generated more than $1.75 billion which has helped our state make historic investments in things like Florida’s education and environment.”
Scott will leave the Governor’s Office in January after an eight-year tenure.
Legal Battle Goes to the Tribe
The Seminoles, which operate the Hard Rock-branded casino chain throughout Florida, were granted exclusivity on banked games like blackjack in return for revenue-share payments to the state back in 2010. That deal expired in 2015, but the tribal operator continued to offer house-banked games, which spurred a legal battle with Florida, while lawmakers fruitlessly scrambled to negotiate a new agreement.
Florida sued the Seminoles in 2015, claiming they were operating illegal gambling but the Seminoles counter-sued. Lawyers for the tribe claimed that the state regulator had permitted the state’s parimutuel operators to offer banked games in violation of the original compact.
A federal judge sided with the Seminoles, ruling that the so-called ‘player-designated’ games the state had OK’d for the parimutuels were, in fact, banked games. Under the terms of the 2010 compact, the tribe would have the right to offer their own banked games for another 15 years without the need for an agreement with the state, if its exclusivity was violated. The court ruled it could do until 2030.
Seminoles’ Nuclear Option
The Seminoles have never threatened to withdraw their substantial payments and appear willing to keep sharing revenue provided authorities rigorously enforce the ban on player-designated games. But the court’s ruling has provided them with a nuclear option and one that strengthens their hand in negotiations of a future compact.
Meanwhile, the legislature has been frantically negotiating the finer points of a sweeping gambling reform bill that also seeks to find a solution to the Seminoles’ lack of a compact. Lawmakers are considering holding a special session to get the job done before the November election, when Floridians will be asked to decide on a constitutional amendment that would give voters the say on all gambling expansion proposals.
The ballot proposal has been largely funded by the Disney Corporation and the Seminoles, both of which are opposed to gambling expansion in Florida. Lawmakers warn that the amendment, if passed, would make it difficult to forge a compact that proposes anything but the status quo, effectively handing the Seminoles a casino gaming monopoly for the foreseeable future.