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Attorney General’s vigilance protects Compact

Tony Sanchez Jr. and I would like to say a hearty “Sho-naa-bish” (Thank you) to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi for the strong opinion she delivered Jan. 12 denying the legality of slot machine gaming referendums across Florida. Given the highly charged, extremely complicated atmosphere surrounding the so-called “destination resorts” casino legislation now creeping through the Florida legislature, it is refreshing that one Florida leader has boldly stepped forward to bring a sense of fair play to this ever-growing, shadowy situation.

 Attorney General Bondi is correct in her opinion that individual county referendums OK’ing slot machines at existing pari-mutuel facilities violates the Florida Constitution. Bondi directed that the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) should not approve slot machine licenses based on upcoming votes. The law is clear, Bondi found, that such referendums are valid only if preauthorized by the Legislature or the state Constitution.

Her words, delivered Jan. 12, brought a strong dose of “shock’n y’all” to fast-track gaming interests in two rural Florida counties barely two weeks from conducting the special referenda. (In addition to Gadsden and Washington counties in the Florida panhandle, Hamilton and Palm Beach counties are gearing up for similar referenda later in the year.)

We applaud Attorney General Bondi for her courage in standing up to slot machine advocates who use faux loopholes in existingFloridalaws to gain local support for gaming expansion that is clearly illegal. We also praise DBPR Secretary Ken Lawson, who requested Bondi’s opinion and promised his agency would follow her directive.

From the beginning, when we first heard about the current legislation to significantly expand gaming inFlorida, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has stood squarely in support of the Gaming Compact the Tribe signed with the State ofFloridain 2010. We have called upon Gov. Rick Scott, his Cabinet and the Florida Legislature to protect this agreement, signed in good faith, against all attacks against its integrity.

The Attorney General is right. We hope she will stand firm when the arrows start to fly from those who thought they could sneak in under her radar. The terms of this Compact clearly preclude slot machines at facilities outside of Broward and Dade counties and make no provisions for special referenda without legislative/constitutional approval. The people ofFloridaare well served by Attorney General Bondi and her vigilance for the protection of the letter of the law.

James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.

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