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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Expand Seminole gaming? Tribe fine with lawmaker’s idea

TALLAHASSEE — There will be a place for roulette and craps in the state’s Seminole casinos should lawmakers decide to give it to them.

As state senators were discussing the latest draft of a statewide gambling study last week, Miami Democrat Gwen Margolis chimed in with an idea.

If Florida just allowed the Seminoles to offer roulette and craps, which now are prohibited, “we would probably, without opening one new casino, have much more money,” Margolis said.

The Seminoles operate Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and other gambling centers across the state.

Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner now says: No problem.

“At any casino, the addition of a new game requires the hiring and training of dealers to ensure the best possible customer experience,” he told the Tribune. “(It) means more jobs, too. Adding new tables to the gaming floor is the least of it.”

But Bitner wants to be clear that the tribe “is not negotiating for additional games, and is happy with the games it has now.” Those games include slot machines and blackjack.

The state is mulling whether to expand gambling opportunities, including Las Vegas-style destination casino-resorts, with a bill likely to be discussed in the 2014 legislative session.

The hitch is an agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which guarantees the state a minimum $1 billion from the tribe’s gambling income over five years.

The deal gives exclusive rights to the tribe to offer Las Vegas-style gambling outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

If they lose that exclusivity through expanded gambling, the Seminoles can halt those payments, already estimated at more than $200 million next year.

“If you gave them the opportunity to do a few more things in their casinos, we wouldn’t have to sit around here and worry about (new) casinos,” Margolis said.

Senate Gaming committee chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, didn’t express an opinion on Margolis’ idea.

And a spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has said members are “still gathering the facts” before they comment publicly on any specific recommendations.

Lawmakers are beginning a series of public workshops across the state to get feedback, set for Oct. 23 in Coconut Creek, Oct. 30 in Lakeland, Nov. 14 in Pensacola and Nov. 15 in Jacksonville.

John Sowinski, president of Orlando-based No Casinos Inc., said the current agreement with the Seminoles “was sold to the people of Florida as a firewall against the further expansion of gambling.”

“That promise shouldn’t be violated,” Sowinski said. “We oppose any expansion of gambling, and turning tribal facilities into full fledged Vegas(-style) casinos by adding craps and roulette would be an expansion.”

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