When a bill was introduced that would allow non-tribal casinos in Florida, we knew there would be opposition. There is always opposition to gambling expansion, especially from anti-gambling groups that oppose it for moral or religious reasons. What a lot of people didn’t think about, though, is that the bill, if passed, would be illegal.
More accurately, it would cause the state of Florida to violate current law. Right now, by law, the Seminole tribe has exclusive rights to offer casino games in the state of Florida, thanks to the contract negotiated last year. They have at least five years of exclusivity for offering blackjack and at least 20 years for slot machines.
Despite that, Florida Senators Dennis Jones and Maria Sachs have proposed legislation that would allow five destination resort casinos to be built in Florida. Those casinos would have slots and table games, which would violate the state’s compact with the Seminole tribe. As you can imagine, the Seminoles aren’t too pleased about that.
Gary Bitner, a tribal spokesman, said that “if the legislature wants to allow in new entities, it will have to decide if it is a good tradeoff. Are they going to make enough to make up for the assured payments from the tribe?”
His comment is a thinly-veiled threat (we’ll call it a negotiation) to cut off revenue sharing with the state. As part of the gaming contract, the tribe will share $1 billion in revenue with the state over the next five years. That money goes into the state’s general fund and is already part of the budget on which the state operates. If the state violates the compact by allowing competitors to offer casino games, violating the exclusivity guaranteed to the Seminole, there would be no reason for the tribe to continue sharing revenue with the state.
A similar situation has taken place in New York, where two different tribes have stopped sharing revenue with the state because the state violated the gaming contract. If that happens, the state of Florida would lose the guaranteed revenue from the Seminole’s casinos. There is also the aspect where many want Florida to be seen as a family-friendly tourist destination. A state best known for Disney is kind of the anti-Vegas and many in the state oppose shifting away from that image. With all of those concerns and more, the legislation already seems to have slim hopes of passing.