Well, it took a few more days than I expected, but Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed the $1 billion gambling bill into law this afternoon. Instead of calling a news conference like usual, Crist quietly signed the legislation with only Representative Bill Galvano and Senator Dennis Jones, the two main sponsors of the bill, as witnesses of his signature. The bill passed the House last Tuesday and has been awaiting Crist’s signature since then.
It is likely that Crist decided to sign the bill quietly because gambling is a divisive and controversial issue, especially among conservatives. The Republican Governor is already trailing badly in the polls to challenger Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. It is thought that the only chance Crist has is to run as an Independent candidate. Another divisive issue is not exactly what Crist wants at this point.
The $1 billion gambling deal gives the Seminole tribe exclusive rights to offer blackjack in 5 of their 7 casinos in the state of Florida. In addition, the bill finally brings the state the $435 million that Crist had already put in the education budget, meaning that money he had already spent finally exists.
The main opponents of the gambling deal were the state pari-mutuels, who were already at a competitive disadvantage to the Seminole tribe’s casinos. Now that the Seminole have exclusive rights to blackjack, the pari-mutuels worry about a loss of business leading to job cuts and eventually closures. In an effort to offset that, the bill also increases the hours the pari-mutuels can remain open and lowers their tax rate.
Next week, Governor Crist plans to do a ceremonial bill signing on a Seminole reservation with their tribal members. Now that the bill has passed the Florida legislature and been signed by the governor, the only step that remains is for it to be approved by the federal Department of the Interior, who must approve all compacts involving Native American tribes.