Residents of Florida, tourists, and the Seminole Indian Tribe may soon get the casino games they’ve long hoped for.
On Monday, Florida legislators approved a $1 billion dollar gaming contract with the Seminole tribe, finalizing a deal that has been negotiated back and forth for years.
The new gambling legislation allows blackjack and other card games at five casinos including the Hard Rock Casino and the Hollywood Casino in Florida. The deal received bipartisan approval of 74-39. All that’s left is for Governor Charlie Crist to sign the new legislation.
The tribe also gets a monopoly on Vegas-style slots everywhere but Broward and Miami-Dade counties, where voters already approved those games.
Legal blackjack is something the casinos have sought for years. This is the third Seminole gambling deal since 2007. But unlike past efforts, this one has support from the tribe, the governor and the Legislature.
The Seminole tribe has been trying to get a pkv games gambling deal with Florida since January 1991, spanning three governors.
“You took what was stuck in the ditch and put the state of Florida back in the driver’s seat,” said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who led the Legislature’s talks.
After Monday’s House vote – coming a week after 29-9 approval in the Senate – two steps remain: Crist, who has championed the Seminole gambling deal for years, must sign it into the law. And then the federal Department of Interior, which oversees state-tribal gambling compacts, must sign off.
The agreement also includes financial benefits for pari-mutuel facilities, particularly those in Broward and Dade. South Florida tracks will get a 15-percent tax break on slots profits, a concession they argue is vital to compete head-on with the tribe. And across the state, poker rooms will have expanded hours and higher-stakes games.
For the coming fiscal year, the deal pumps about $435 million into the state budget’s general revenue fund. Lawmakers can use the money for any purposes – a major change from past versions, which earmarked gambling revenues specifically for education. Blackjack is authorized at Seminole casinos for five years.
After that, the Legislature will have to decide whether to continue its arrangement with the tribe, discontinue blackjack in Florida altogether or expand card games to new venues.
The “no” votes came from an assortment of anti-gambling religious conservatives and legislators from Palm Beach County, who worried the Kennel Club in West Palm Beach would take a severe financial hit because of increased competition to the south.
Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, quoted Scripture and said the gambling deal “is evil and brings evil upon Floridians.”
“It damages our faith, our families and our freedoms,” he said.
Added Rep. Ronald Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, “Casino style gambling — if you want that, go to Las Vegas. What happens in Las Vegas should stay in Las Vegas.”
By contrast, supporters said it would boost gambling tourism and help the state budget. They noted the state already has a vast gambling industry, which includes eight Indian casinos, 27 pari-mutuel facilities, a massive state Lottery with 13,000 retailers and unregulated forums such as cruises to nowhere and grey machines.
“You can gamble all day, you can gamble all night, and we get nothing for it,” said Rep. Ed