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Casino Expansion Complicated by Both Compact and Politics


BRADENTON – Gambling lobbyists are once again pushing the Florida Legislature to consider gaming expansion in the upcoming legislative session and House Speaker Will Weatherford, who opposes expansion and did not bring the issue to the House Floor in 2012, seems more open to a vote in 2014. However, the issue is complicated by both the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and conditions sought by Weatherford before bringing it to a vote.


The Senate again seems poised to pass some level of expansion that would allow full-scale casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Weatherford has said he’s willing to consider casino legislation on two conditions. First, he wants a constitutional amendment requiring a statewide vote on future expansion. The Speaker also wants a guarantee from Governor Rick Scott that he will renegotiate the Seminole Gaming Compact this year.

Governor Scott, who faces a reelection campaign in November, has remained cautiously neutral on the issue. The compact, forged under then-Governor Charlie Crist in 2010, lasts for 20 years, however, the Seminole Tribe’s monopoly on banked card games like blackjack is set to expire on July 1 of next year.

If the rights to such games are shared with other gambling entities, or slot machine permits are awarded to operators outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, that would void at least part of the compact, which provides a billion dollars in revenue for the state. It's likely that given the 2015 expiration, Scott will prefer to delay having to act until after the November election so that he doesn't have to risk alienating members of his conservative base who oppose expansion on moral grounds.

Republicans have remained split on the issue. The largest opponent of gaming expansion is the state chamber of commerce and Disney, who fear it will tarnish the tourism market's reputation as a family-friendly locale, while also competing for tourism dollars.

State Senator Garrett Richter (R-Naples), chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, has said that the casino bill (which has not yet been filed) would be connected to a constitutional amendment that would require statewide approval for any new gambling expansion after the new casinos are approved. Weatherford, however, wants the amendment to approve the casinos passed prior to this expansion. Whether the two chambers can unify on the issue may depend on Scott's willingness to increase his role.


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