Bill would replace resort casinos with more money from Seminoles
A Palm Beach Democrat suggests having the governor re-negotiate the state’s agreement with the Seminole Tribe to demand higher payments and reject resort casinos
BY MARY ELLEN KLAS
HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
TALLAHASSEE — In an attempt to shift the debate from Miami casinos to the state’s bottom line, state Rep. Joe Abruzzo is filing a bill Wednesday to direct Gov. Rick Scott to give the Seminole Tribe exclusive operation of casino games in Florida for 15 more years in exchange for an annual guarantee of $750 million.
The four-page bill would authorize the governor to re-open the 20-year gambling compact signed in 2009 by Gov. Charlie Crist that now requires the Seminole Tribe of Florida to guarantee $1 billion in the first five years in exchange for the exclusive right to offer table games in Miami Dade and Broward and slot machines outside of South Florida. The tribe now pays an average of $150 million a year under the agreement.
Abruzzo said that his proposal essentially maintains the status quo for gambling but increases the amount of money the tribe would pay the state. Dave Ramba, lobbyist for the Seminole Tribe, said tribe executives hadn’t seen the bill but were open to it.
“If they want to discuss bringing the state more revenue or changing the terms of the agreement, we look forward to the discussion,’’ he said. “If it’s about money, let’s talk money.”
If lawmakers approve the resort casino concept being pushed in another bill, the tribe would cease payments to the state from its casinos in South Florida but would continue to pay the state unless casinos were allowed outside of Miami-Dade and Broward.
Abruzzo, a West Palm Beach Democrat, opposes the casino proposal introduced by Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff as a weak trade-off for the state’s bottom line. State economists estimated last week that, based on preliminary data, the state would see a modest increase in revenue of between $4 million to $102 million a year from the construction of three $2 billion resort casino developments.
“It’s not the best deal for Florida,’’ Abruzzo told the Herald/Times. “A 10 percent tax rate, a $50 million licensing fee and not giving parity and consideration to businesses that have been operating in Florida for years is a bad deal.’’
Abruzzo, a gambling supporter, has also filed a local bill that would allow the Palm Beach County Kennel Club to start offering slot machines – a measure that, if passed, would violate the tribe’s current gambling compact with the state.
Abruzzo was the only freshman to serve on the 2009 legislative committee that reviewed the gambling compact with the Seminoles and voted against it at the time. He said he believes the tribe, whose revenues are estimated to be $2 billion a year, should have been required to pay at least $500 million a year.
The tribe said Tuesday it is one payment away from the $500 million mark in gaming compact payments made to the state. The tribe began monthly payments in 2008, following federal approval of the first compact signed between the tribe and Crist. The compact was then rejected by a court and the current one went into effect in January 2010.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com or on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas