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State ends legislative session with no compact

TALLAHASSEE — March 11, the last day of the Florida 2016 legislative session, came and went without ratification of the Seminole gaming compact.

Senate Bill 7074 died without making it to the floor after weeks of critical legislative debate and backlash from outside gaming enterprises led to a handful of Senate and House amendments that muddied the issue and derailed any hope of passing before the deadline.

The compact would have entered the Tribe into a 20-year agreement with the state to conduct slot machines and live table games, such as craps and roulette, and banked card games, including blackjack, at its seven gaming facilities. In return, the state stood to receive revenue sharing payments that would have guaranteed $3 billion in Florida coffers during the first seven years.

The Tribe already pays the state approximately $240 million annually, based on the 2010 five-year compact which expired in July 2015 but that the Tribe continues to pay in good faith.

The actions of the Senate and House bring to question if legislators are versed in the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which is intended to provide tribal gaming ventures on Indian land, through the National Indian Gaming Commission, advantages in the gaming world in order for Tribes to achieve economic development, financial independence and self-determination.

Further, exclusivity regarding some games is required by law in order for the state to get a revenue share.

President Mitchell Cypress said on March 17 that Tribal citizens should not be afraid of the future in any regard.

“Yes, the compact was not approved but there are better days ahead,” President Cypress said. “We will continue with what we have; we will move forward.”

Two moves could bring the compact back into the hands of Tallahassee lawmakers: Gov. Rick Scott could call legislators back to the Capitol for special session or the issue can be reconsidered in 2017.

Certainly, gaming in Florida will be argued in court.

The Tribe and state have both filed federal lawsuits, each claiming that the other is incorrect over whether blackjack games should have continued, and continue still, after the 2010 compact expired last year. The Tribe maintains that the state breached the compact agreement regarding blackjack by allowing some Miami-Dade and Broward gaming venues to offer electronic blackjack and baccarat after the compact expired.

However, under IGRA, the state was required by law to renegotiate and ratify a new compact – which it did not.

Another Florida Supreme Court case argues that slot machines should be allowed at a Gadsden County horse track west of Tallahassee simply because voters of Gadsden voted for it.

If the Supreme Court finds on the side of Gadsden voters, gambling could open up in five other counties where voters have also voted in favor of gaming at local parimutuels.

Under all circumstances, no compact means the state will reap no revenue share but gaming will continue at all Seminole venues.

The Tribe and state have both asked for a delay in the Supreme Court case tentatively set for July, while plans to expand the Tribe’s gaming facilities, hotels and related properties are uncertain.

“Still, Tribal members should be happy; live happy. We have come very far in a short time and we will stay the course,” President Cypress said.