Florida lawmakers could return to Tallahassee as early as next month to hold a special session to deal with gaming issues left unresolved during the regular session that ended earlier this month.
“During the final weeks of session, the House and Senate made significant progress towards resolving a number issues surrounding gaming in our state,” said Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, in a statement released Thursday evening. “With the approval of President (Joe) Negron and Speaker (Richard) Corcoran, Speaker-Designate (Jose) Oliva and I are continuing to explore possibilities to resolve these issues.”
Galvano and House Speaker Richard Corcoran confirmed talk are being held by lawmakers who are knowledgeable about the state’s current gaming contract with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The tribe operates several casinos in the state, which generates millions of dollars every year for the state.
Under the state’s current deal with the Seminole Tribe those yearly payments–expected to total close to $400 million in the next fiscal year–could come to an end.
“One of our concerns is the possible loss of revenue from the Seminole Tribe and the resulting impacts on the state budget,” Sen. Galvano said. “For that reason, there is a potential that we would need to revisit gaming prior to the start of the 2018-19 fiscal year.”
“At this point, no decision has been made regarding a special session,” he added.
Legislators had been working on a new contract during the regular session but were unable to reach an agreement.
Under the current arrangement, the tribe has exclusive rights to card games and to operate slot machines outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. But so-called “designated player games” that are played at pari-mutuel facilities are putting the contract and the payments to the state at risk.
“The Seminole’s potential to completely walk away from the forbearance agreement jeopardizes the stability of the State budget. We would be forced to cut between $390 and $441 million in General Revenue, or we would have to allow our reserves to be drained, which could jeopardize our state bond rating,” said Corcoran. “The House will be discussing our options, including the possibility of a special session, with the Governor and the Senate.”
Legally, the Seminole Tribe can stop making the payments at the end of this month under a judge’s ruling regarding the matter.
Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, released a statement Friday criticizing leadership for not taking action sooner.
“This was not a sudden development, or a last-minute problem we needed to confront,” said Gibson, who also serves on the Senate Regulated Industries committee which oversees gaming issues. “We were on notice before the gavel first sounded in January that failing to address gaming could blow a $300 million hole in the budget. It’s becoming more and more difficult to explain to taxpayers why three months after the session convened, the budget that was passed remains in jeopardy because it was built on incomplete, non-transparent information.”