Speaking to reporters moments after he was sworn in as Florida’s new senate president on Tuesday, Joe Negron (pictured) said he was optimistic that the senate could work with its colleagues in the House of Representatives to ratify a new compact with the Seminoles, one that is “hopefully long term enough so that the state has predictability in revenue and that’s also fair to pari-mutuels.”
The Seminoles agreed to a 20-year compact in 2010 which included five years of exclusivity over house-banked table games at their seven casinos. But the state later authorized pari-mutuel operators to offer so-called ‘designated player’ card games, which the Seminoles believed were house-banked games in everything but name, and lawsuits began flying.
In 2015, Gov. Rick Scott reached agreement with the tribe on a new compact but the legislature failed to bring their gambling bill up for a vote before the end of the session, in part because competing gaming interests stuffed the bill with goodies, including authorizing slots operations in five additional counties.
Earlier this month, the tribe won a major court victory on the designated player games issue in which the state was found to have violated the original compact. The ruling okayed the Seminoles offering house-banked games for the duration of their original 20-year compact, putting the tribe in the driver’s seat for future compact negotiations.
The new legislative session doesn’t start until March 2017, leading Negron to conclude that there’s “plenty of time” to reach agreement. Negron noted that legislators were “close to having the outline of a potential agreement last season, so it’s not as if we’re starting from scatch.”
But Negron conceded that if counties were to approve slots operations via local referendums, as Duval county voters did this month, he’d “personally feel obligated to defer to that.” Negron said legislators “need to be fair to other participants in the gaming industry, the pari-mutuels and others.”
Negron’s belief in the need to make everybody happy wasn’t shared by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who only the day before said the only way a gambling bill would pass the “very conservative” house was if it featured “a reduction in gambling.”
Corcoran conceded that the recent court ruling had “marginally” weakened the state’s bargaining power with the tribe, but he believes both parties need “long-term stability” in terms of revenue. “We’ll have the negotiation and we’ll have that work itself through.” Sure, you will.