Talks could lead to gambling special session

By Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - After failing to reach consensus on gambling issues during the regular legislative session that ended this month, House and Senate leaders are considering a special session to address a potential agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Sen. Bill Galvano, who will take over as Senate president in November, said Thursday evening that leaders in the two chambers are exploring options to seal a new deal with the tribe, possibly before the next fiscal year begins July 1.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who has taken the lead on negotiations with the tribe for the past several years, said he and incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva “are continuing to explore possibilities to resolve” a number of issues surrounding the complicated gambling issues.

The legislative negotiators are trying to strike a deal, called a “compact,” to replace a 2010 agreement between the state and the tribe.

One of the critical provisions of the 2010 deal, giving the tribe “exclusivity” over banked card games, such as blackjack, expired in 2015. That spawned a protracted legal battle and futile attempts by lawmakers to reach a new agreement.

The tribe pays the state more than $300 million a year for the exclusive rights to the card games and to operate slot machines outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. But controversial “designated player games,” which are played at pari-mutuel facilities, have put the payments in jeopardy.

A federal judge sided with the tribe in a dispute over whether the lucrative designated-player games breached the Seminoles’ exclusivity over offering banked card games. The tribe agreed to continue making payments to the state, and gambling regulators promised to “aggressively enforce” the manner in which cardrooms conduct the designated player games.

But a temporary deal between the state and the Seminoles, in which the tribe agreed to continue making the payments, expires Friday, sparking the push for a new round of negotiations.

“The Seminoles’ potential to completely walk away from the forbearance agreement jeopardizes the stability of the state budget. We will be forced to cut between $390 and $441 million in general revenue, or we will have to allow our reserves to be drained, which could jeopardize our state bond rating,” Corcoran said in a text message Thursday evening.

A special session, if it were to happen, would “ideally” take place before the July 1 start of the fiscal year, Galvano told The News Service of Florida.

Legislative leaders will likely make a decision on whether to hold a special session “within a week to 10 days,” Galvano said.

Lawmakers also are anxious to finalize an agreement with the tribe before November, when voters will decide on a proposed constitutional amendment that would give voters control over future gambling expansions. Those decisions are now largely the purview of the state Legislature.  

News Service of Florida