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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Scott, Seminoles renew talks on gambling revenue

TALLAHASSEE — A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Wednesday that he and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have begun talks to renew a revenue-sharing agreement that adds more than $200 million yearly to the state’s treasury.

Neither side would comment on early details, including what they expect to get out of a new deal.

The current Seminole Compact guarantees income to the state from the tribe’s gambling revenue in return for the ability to exclusively offer some Vegas-style games.

Scott was in Tampa on Wednesday to announce state funding of a Tampa International Airport expansion. He didn’t bring up the Seminoles in a brief session with reporters. In an email later in the day, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said, “We are having ongoing discussions to make sure we get the best deal for the state.”

Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner released a brief statement, saying only that the tribe hopes negotiations “lead to a positive outcome for both the tribe and the state of Florida.”

The compact includes a provision allowing blackjack and other card games at locations including Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The card game component expires in mid-2015 unless renewed.

It guaranteed the state a minimum $1 billion from the tribe’s gambling income over five years.

Under certain scenarios, however, if the tribe loses exclusive rights to offer Las Vegas-style games through expanded gambling, it can reduce payments or stop paying altogether.

That’s why lawmakers and others have said a renegotiated compact is the linchpin to a statewide gambling overhaul bill, teed up for this session.

The House’s proposal eliminates close to a dozen inactive pari-mutuel permits and creates a statewide gambling oversight body, but doesn’t allow for destination resort casinos.

The Senate’s version authorizes two destination casinos in South Florida, creates a gaming commission and allows local voters to decide on expanding gambling.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, however, wants a constitutional amendment before more gambling is allowed.

The 54-page agreement with the Seminoles was signed in April 2010, after being negotiated by former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist, now running as a Democrat against Scott, declined to comment on the new round of talks, his spokesman said.

Jim Shore, general counsel of the Seminole Tribe and a tribe member, wrote in a Wednesday op-ed column for the South Florida Sun Sentinel that continuing the arrangement is good for Florida.

But, “by not continuing, the state not only risks billions of dollars in future revenue, but also suggests a willingness to invest more in out-of-state interests whose primary focus is elsewhere, not Florida,” he said.

For example, Malaysian-based Genting Resorts World wants to lease Gulfstream Racetrack’s slot-machine license and open for business on the site of the former Miami Herald building that Genting now owns. The property overlooks Biscayne Bay.

“The compact also ensures that Florida gaming is both profitable and controlled versus other places, like Atlantic City, where rapid gaming expansion came at a huge financial and social cost,” Shore added.

Tribune senior political writer William March contributed to this report.

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