Florida Special Session Still A Possibility

Some Florida lawmakers may push for a special session to resolve the Seminole Compact before the new fiscal year starts, and also before voters may approve on November 6 an amendment giving them control over gambling expansion. The Seminoles have continued to make monthly payments of $19.5 million from revenue earned from their casinos, including the state’s most lucrative casino, Hard Rock Tampa (l.), although they're not required to.

Florida lawmakers may push for a special session to finalize a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe before the new fiscal year begins July 1 and voters have a chance to approve Amendment 3, giving them—not legislators—control over future gambling in the state.

Outgoing House Speaker Richard Corcoran and incoming Senate President Senator Bill Galvano said they have been in talks with Seminole leaders and may call for a special session to present a new compact to the legislature. Before the legislature adjourned, the tribe had tentatively approved a proposal to pay the state $3 billion over the next seven years in exchange for retaining exclusive rights to offer blackjack and other banked card games.

Corcoran said, “The Seminoles’ potential to completely walk away from the lapsed agreement jeopardizes the stability of the state budget. We would be forced to cut between $390 million and $441 million in general revenue, or we would have to allow our reserves to be drained, which could jeopardize our state bond rating.”

However, Galvano said the desire for a special session isn’t necessarily the risk of losing revenue from the tribe, but rather to secure a compact before voters go to the polls in November.

“It’s game over for the legislature if that amendment passes,” he says. “At that point, we’ll just be spectators in the world of gaming, which will essentially be a monopoly for the Seminole Tribe.”

Meanwhile, Seminole Tribe Attorney Barry Richard said the tribe will continue to pay its monthly casino gambling revenue share of $19.5 million. The tribe has the option of stopping the payments; a 2015 federal court order allowed that after March 31 if lawmakers did not stop the spread of designated player games in Florida card rooms.

“They don’t want to take advantage of the state economically any more than they want the state to take advantage of them,” Richard said.

Senate Bill 840 supports expanding designated player games, slots and fantasy gaming, but not House Bill 7067. Other areas of disagreement included the length of the compact, fantasy sports and decoupling. Without a compromise in the regular session, the Seminole compact was left unfinished.

In a letter to legislators, John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, the anti-gaming advocacy group behind getting Amendment 3 on the November ballot, said talk of a special session is “a genuflection to the gambling industry” and “a fictional crisis manufactured by gambling lobbyists who want you to re-convene so they can try to make one more run at a major expansion of gambling before the November elections, when Florida voters will likely approve Amendment 3.” The amendment will become law if 60 percent of voters approve.

Sowinski noted, “Revenue estimators, the Florida Supreme Court and even the gambling industry’s own legal experts agree that the voter approval requirements of Amendment 3 could be applied to any expansion you might now approve. In other words, you must assume that legislation to expand gambling now may be overturned in November with voter approval of Amendment 3.”

In response, gambling lobbyist Marc Dunbar stated Sowinski has “declared war on the gambling industry, and in turn our economy, with a proposed constitutional amendment which you now have finally and publicly disclosed is intended to ban retroactively many forms of legal gambling in the state. This quest to retroactively outlaw legal operations could eliminate large segments of an industry that has contributed billions of dollars to Florida’s economy. Your lack of candor with state economists, lawmakers and even the Florida Supreme Court regarding the true motives behind your proposal raises the question whether you similarly respect the rights of Floridians to make an informed decision regarding your proposed amendment and gambling within their communities.”

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