During the first hand of a blackjack ceremony at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek on Aug. 13, 2010, Max Osceola, councilman for the Seminole Tribe Of Florida, and Florida Rep. Jim Waldman won a combined $290 and donated it to SOS Children's Village in Coconut Creek, a charity the casino has been supporting to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in recent years. Now Waldman advocates legalizing gambling for non-Indian casinos in Florida. / Photo courtesy of Seminole Casino Coconut Creek's photostream on Flickr.

A Non-Indian East Coast Sin City Could Reshuffle Seminole Tribe’s Cards

ICTMN Staff
1/13/11

After gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson tempted Florida legislators with a $3 billion investment to build a Miami Beach casino to rival Sin City’s most glamorous destinations, Florida legislators are discussing whether to allow non-Indian casinos in the state, reported The Miami Herald.

The $3 billion promise from Adelson, chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., lead Florida’s newly inaugurated Gov. Rick Scott to momentarily weigh the incentives of state gambling, during a meeting with representatives of Las Vegas Sands, reported NorthEscambia.com.

However, Scott quickly retracted his initial indication of interest. "My view on gaming is I don't want the state to be very largely dependent on gaming for revenues," Scott said at a news conference on Jan. 7, reported SunSentinel.com. “We allow gaming in this state,” he said, referring to slots and racinos, “and I haven't taken any position about doing anything different with gaming."

Despite his public comments, Scott's Regulatory Reform Transition Team has already published some recommendations, including "eliminating mandatory gaming activities that are unprofitable for an additional form of gambling,” reported SunSentinel.com.

Some members of the media question Scott’s neutral stance. “…But surely a $3 billion promise has a certain resonance for a governor who promised to run the state like a business and to get rid of mindless, business-stifling regulations,” suggested Fred Grimm in The Miami Herald.

The same panel of lawmakers that helped devise the Legislature’s gaming compact with the Seminole Indian Tribe will decide whether Florida should up the ante or fold the $3 billion hand.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist signed the Seminole compact last year, opening the door for the tribe to offer Las Vegas-style gaming and “loosening rules regulating card rooms at racetracks and jai alai frontons,” reported the Sunshine State News. The gambling deal requires the Seminoles pay the state at least $1 billion over five years and up to 10 percent of net revenue on its exclusive games for 15 years after that, reported TampaBay.com.

Currently, the tribe holds exclusive rights to offer blackjack and other table games at five of its seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, as well as Las Vegas-style slot machines at its casinos outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties, reported TampaBay.com.

If Florida opens operations of those games statewide, the tribe can cancel its payments to the state -- currently $150 million a year.

"If they want to allow in new entities, the Legislature will have to decide if it's a good tradeoff," said Barry Richard, an attorney for the Seminole Indian Tribe. "Are they going to make enough to make up the assured payments from the tribe?"

Florida’s options include “renewing its five-year compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, allowing pari-mutuels statewide to install slot machines or allowing Las Vegas casinos to move all-in,” reported SunSentinel.com.

According to state Rep. Jim Waldman, D- Coconut Creek, Florida should make the first move to offer legalized gambling. He spoke with some competitors about expanded gambling at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, on Jan. 7 through 9, reported SunSentinel.com.

"Many states that don't have gaming are looking at it seriously because their neighboring states are doing it," Waldman told SunSentinel.com. "The thinking is, if we don't do it, somebody else is, and they're going to take our dollars.

"Then there's budgeting issues and the fact that while it's not the way to balance the budget, it certainly helps put a finger in the dike,” he told the SunSentinel.com.

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R- Fort Lauderdale, backed down from her previous opposition to gambling, stating, "It's not expansion. It's here. We're already the fourth-largest gambling state in the nation,” reported the SunSentinel.com.

Each county would vote to approve or reject the casino, anyways, Bogdanoff said.

As always, gambling proponents tout job creation, like Al Cardenas, a Miami lobbyist for Wynn casinos and a former state Republican Party chairman, who recently said, "The concept is not just to create a source of revenue for the state that could equal or surpass the lottery. More important is the billions that would be invested in our state and the creation of tens of thousands of permanent, high-paying jobs," reported Sunshine State News.

Adelson anticipates an oceanfront mega-casino would draw East Coast high rollers from New York, Boston, Atlanta and Chicago, reported The Miami Herald.

"At the end of the day, we can give Las Vegas a run for their money," Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R- Fort Lauderdale told the SunSentinel.com. "We both have sand. The difference is we have both sand and water.”

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