The other day we had dinner with the Governor of Florida. To my knowledge, this was the first time Seminole Indians have ever been invited to break bread with a Governor at the Mansion in Tallahassee.
It was very interesting to me to find so many similarities in what Gov. Rick Scott is trying to address and what we are trying to accomplish at the Seminole Tribe. He is trying to create a workable budget for the State government and at the same time create jobs for State residents, all under the cloud of this stressful and trying economy.
At dinner with the Governor, we talked about what has been going on during our first 150 days in office. We have had to address Tribal government needs, as well as Tribal member needs, and do it in the most efficient way possible.
The other similarity had to do with getting to know each other, and this made it a welcome visit for both sides. It seems as if both the Tribal officials and the Governor were trying to figure out what the other is all about.
Of course, Gov. Scott is trying to figure out who we are, what we are all about and how we use our funds. We made sure he understood we were not dependent on government subsidy, a common misconception among non-Indians. Meanwhile, we were trying to figure out what kind of individual he is – not so much, as a governor, but as a man – to better understand his thought processes and willingness to discuss resolution to the gray issues that lie before the State and the Tribe.
We invited him to come down and visit us. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. A personal visit will be much more effective than for us to just sit there and describe our lives to him. That will help both of us understand because, after all, we have to maintain a relationship with the State.
If both sides understand what our collective needs are, we can both do a better job of coming up with solutions. I must admit I was very surprised at how reserved and respectful the Governor was with us. I was expecting more of a John Wayne type individual, but no, he was very respectful, and, I believe, genuinely interested in finding out all about the Seminole Tribe. You can’t help but wonder about preconceptions and what state legislators may have told him about us!
On our way up to the meeting, I was expecting a much more confrontational affair – you know, drawing lines in the sand and saying, “This is what I want; This is what you can have.” But it was not that way. It was very cordial. Neither side was made to feel uncomfortable. And everyone learned a lot.
Of course, we all knew that gaming would be discussed. We reminded him that the Tribe and State currently have a relationship – a compact – that works. We let him know that if he is planning to expand the scope of gaming in Florida, that we want to be at the negotiating table with him.
I am confident Gov. Scott understands the Seminole Tribe is an important part of Florida history. I believe he knows that we are a people of our word, despite what he is being told by certain state legislators. We directly told the Governor that we are committed to the compact, that we prove our commitment not only by our stated position but also by being current with our committed payments to the State.
He is a businessman; a business man has a special respect for the contract. As a businessman, it is dollar and cents. Gov. Scott knows he has to research and understand the true facts about what the gaming market is in terms of total revenue to be created. That won’t be easy because every outfit has its own estimate. I’ve heard it said that new South Florida casinos will bring $7.5-$10 billion to the State. We figure that should be more like $3.5-$4 billion, a figure easily handled by our current Tribal casinos.
A lot of companies are making claims in terms of jobs and monies to be paid to the State. We can deliver on those same promises and we have. Gov. Scott has to measure between what he has today against what he may have tomorrow if widespread changes go into effect. The Seminole Tribe has a known record in the State of Florida. If we were to expand the scope of gaming, it WOULD mean more revenue to the State. We are already in place, and we are paying our bills.
I would caution Tribal members that we are staying on top of the proposed gaming expansions, as well as saving for a rainy day. We will do everything in our power to maintain what we have now, as well as continue to expand our businesses and revenues. I want Tribal members to understand that we are actively involved with the issue at hand, meeting with lobbyists, meeting with the appropriate legislative individuals and, of course, the Governor.
With all of this going on, we are still trying to take care of the day-to-day business, managing and reviewing Council and Board projects. As a former General Manager of the Immokalee Casino, I am very familiar with the gaming issues at hand. You can be sure, the interests of the Seminole Tribe will be protected.
Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc.