CASINO

Seminoles say they can’t support either Florida gaming bill

TAGs: florida, Seminole Tribe

florida-seminole-gambling-legislationFlorida’s Seminole Tribe says it can’t support either one of the state’s two pieces of gambling legislation because each bill appears to violate federal law.

Florida has two gaming bills up for discussion in this year’s legislative session. A state Senate committee approved the sweeping SB 8 legislation last week, while the same day saw a House subcommittee okay the rival PCB TGC 17-01.

The principal difference between the bills is the Senate’s desire to authorize slot machines in eight counties outside South Florida while also allowing cardrooms to offer so-called ‘designated-player’ (aka house-banked) card games. By contrast, the House bill would essentially freeze the state’s gambling market in its current form.

Both bills would approve the new gaming compact Gov. Rick Scott negotiated with the Seminoles in December 2015, which extended the tribe’s exclusive right to offer blackjack and other house-banked games at its six casinos in exchange for the tribe paying the state $3b over seven years.

But in a letter delivered to legislative leaders this week, Seminole Tribal Council chairman Marcelius Osceola says that while the tribe finds the House bill “less objectionable,” tribal leaders have concluded that neither the Senate or House bills “make economic sense for the Tribe.”

The Seminoles backed up their position by citing a June 2016 letter it received from the federal Office of the Interior, which said that the legislative proposals made to the tribe that year likely violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which prohibits states from charging gaming tribes above and beyond the cost of regulating gaming activity unless the state offers the tribe a ‘meaningful concession.’

Osceola noted that the Senate bill requires the Seminoles to pay “the same higher payments, including a guarantee, agreed to in the 2015 compact, but would add numerous additional exceptions to the Tribe’s exclusivity,” while the House bill proposes “major increases in the Tribe’s payments, including a guarantee, but without providing the necessary additional value from the State.”

Despite their objections, Osceola said the Seminoles were “willing to meet” with legislators and the governor’s office to work out a compromise. The 2017 legislative session starts on Tuesday, and the fireworks should commence shortly thereafter.

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