Seminole Gaming Compact Passes Senate. Next stop: the House

by | May 19, 2021

 

The Florida Senate today passed Senate Bill 2-A, Implementation of the 2021 Gaming Compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the State of Florida. The legislation ratifies the 2021 Gaming Compact executed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis on behalf of the State of Florida.

The 2021 Compact creates a new revenue-sharing agreement with a $2.5 billion guarantee in the first five years. The Compact authorizes craps and roulette games at Seminole properties, additional facilities on the Tribe’s Hollywood Reservation, and statewide online sports betting in partnership with existing pari-mutuels.

Although its passage was pretty much a forgone conclusion, it wasn’t passed without a little political theater.

Senator Jason Pizzo (D- District 38) was concerned that under the compact, a new casino could be built in Miami Beach. Many read the new compact as saying that gambling permits in South Florida can be moved as long as the new location is at least 15 miles from the Seminole Hard Rock Casino. Some believe this 15 mile buffer was not arbitrary and will potentially allow Trump National Doral Miami resort and the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, both of which are only slightly out of the buffer zone, to add casinos in the future.

Pizzo said that he was worried about a casino in Miami Beach and asked if the only safeguard in place right now against it would be local municipal zoning.

Travis Hutson (R-District 7), Chair of the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries and sponsor of the Senate’s gaming legislation during 2021 Special Session A, assured Pizzo that was not the case.

Hutson said, “Another safeguard would be the Florida Legislature would have to act on a permit moving as well.”
Pizzo asked directly, “without an act by this legislative body, no casino can be placed in Miami Beach. Is that your understanding?”

Hutson responded, “That is correct.”

He later elaborated, “Trump Doral doesn’t even have a license so it would have to be moved to another licensed facility with legislative approval.”

Hutson added there would also be a local referendum requirement.

Shortly after this exchange, Senator Gary Farmer (D-District 34) made a motion for the entire discussion of the bill to be placed in the Senate journal so that if legislative intent ever came into question in a legal proceeding, there would be a written record.

“If it is not spread across the journal, it cannot be used in a court of law,” Farmer said, “It will be a black eye on the integrity of this institution if we vote this down. Why would we hide from the public what we do on this floor?”

The motion failed on a 16 to 23 vote. Supporters of the motion say they believe the Senate shot the motion down because it may not be able to defend what was said on the floor in the court of law. Hutson said he was against the motion because it would require two-thirds majority by both the House and Senate and would be a burden for the Senate staff.

Farmer also seemed to still be smarting from his removal as Senate Minority Leader three days prior to the close of regular session. He challenged the new leader, Senator Lauren Book (D-District 32), on amendments made to the compact on distribution of money to the municipalities surrounding the Seminole reservation. Under the amendment, distribution would be 42.5 percent for Hollywood, Florida and 22.5 percent for Davie, Florida. In areas where plans are for the tribe to build new casinos, the distribution would remain at 35 percent for Hollywood and 30 for Davie per changes made the day before in the Senate Appropriations Committee. These changes mark a substantial increase for Davie, even though the city only has one road running to the reservation, compared to Hollywood’s 19 roads and infrastructure.

Reportedly, Book’s father is a lobbyist for Davie.

Farmer called this a “food fight between cities” and said the “influence is inappropriate.” He said he would now have to “hold his nose to vote for this.”

But once the food stopped flying, the Gaming Compact passed the Senate with a 38 to 1 vote. The lone nay vote belonged to Senator Jeff Brandes (R-District 24), who said he could not vote for the bill because it created a statewide gambling monopoly.

“It’s not about the money to me. Its about the principal and I’m not going to be a part of it,” he said.

SB 2-A takes effect only if the Compact is approved, or deemed approved and not voided, by the United States Department of the Interior, and takes effect on the date that notice of the effective date of the compact is published in the Federal Register.

The Senate also passed SB 4-A, Gaming Enforcement, which establishes additional enforcement measures to address violations of gambling laws and the conduct of unauthorized gaming in the state, including the creation of an independent five-member Gaming Control Commission. The bill also grants additional investigatory and prosecutorial authority to the Office of Statewide Prosecution in the Department of Legal Affairs.

SB 8-A, Gaming, updates Florida law for authorized gaming in the state, including live racing and games, slot machine gaming, and the operation of cardrooms. Specifically, the bill decouples greyhound, jai alai, harness, and quarter horse racing; eliminates dormant pari-mutuel permits; and prohibits the issuance of new pari-mutuel permits.

“By comprehensively addressing issues raised for almost a decade, this historic legislation restores Florida’s relationship with the Seminole Tribe, offers new opportunities for Florida’s legacy pari-mutuel industry, and provides substantial new revenues for our state,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson, who has been working to negotiate a new compact with the Seminole Tribe for the last several years. “After years of negotiations and the hard work of many people on both sides, I’m pleased to see this significant legislation pass the Senate today.”

“I’m grateful to my Senate colleagues for their strong support of this historic Compact,” said Hutson. “Not only are we beginning a new 30-year agreement with the Seminole Tribe, but we are also making needed updates to Florida law to better reflect the current gaming climate and combat illegal gambling.”

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