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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Editorial: Getting squeezed by gaming vice

Once again, Florida is facing outside pressure to expand gambling — and further expose residents and visitors to the dangers of this vice. Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers need to stand tall and say no.

As the Tribune’s James L. Rosica reported Wednesday, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians from Alabama have petitioned Gov. Rick Scott for an agreement to allow the tribe to offer high-stakes gaming in Northwest Florida.

At the present, under a $1 billion compact with the state, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has that exclusive right at their facilities, which include the Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa.

The Poarch, the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Alabama, have three slots casinos in that state. Now, they are eyeing Florida’s Escambia County for “banked card games,” which include baccarat and blackjack, and other gaming — just as Scott and the Seminoles are negotiating to renew the current compact.

Scott should say no to the Poarch — and Florida lawmakers should reject any agreement should the governor reach one.

Florida already has a repulsive public policy that encourages residents and visitors to waste their money dreaming of a big score. At the forefront is the Florida Lottery, which has large vending machines prominently placed in many grocery stores.

The weak and financially challenged are especially vulnerable to the false promise of gambling. And state lawmakers refuse to call gaming what it really is — a hidden tax, which deprives families of income and local businesses of economic activity.

State officials had little option but to allow the Seminoles to offer high-stakes games at the tribe’s casinos in Central and South Florida. At the time, then-Gov. Charlie Crist did the best he could by entering into an agreement that guaranteed the state at least $1 billion over five years. In all likelihood the federal government would have allowed the tribe to offer blackjack and other high-stakes gaming without an agreement with the state.

But the move by the Poarch Creek Indians is different. That tribe is not federally recognized in Florida; only the Seminoles and Miccosukee Tribe are. Further muddying the waters is that the Miccosukees are eligible to petition for a gambling compact as well, but had not done so as of Wednesday.

The feds will do what they want to do. But Scott and lawmakers need to take a strong stand on behalf of our state’s economy. The best course of action is to renew the compact with the Seminoles and maintain the status quo, which is, sadly, less than desirable. Florida should not be seduced by the false promises of expanded gambling, which would ruin its reputation as a family friendly place to live, work and visit.

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