legislature 2014

Governor tells legislators he is ‘getting close’ on gambling deal

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

With a week to go before the end of session, Gov. Rick Scott’s deputies are taking the pulse of the Florida Legislature about their interest in coming back to ratify a compact with the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera has told House and Senate leaders that Gov. Rick Scott is getting close on an agreement with the Seminole Tribe that would allow them to renew their exclusive right to operate some games in Florida in exchange for sharing revenue with the state.

Although details of a proposed agreement are sketchy, and legislators who have discussed it with them say they don’t have any information, it appears that the proposed deal would not expand options for the state’s pari-mutuel industry.

“The lieutenant governor said they were getting very close,’’ said House Speaker Will Weatherford on Friday. “There were no specifics talked about — just that they were close.”

He said he told them: “when you have a deal let us know what it is and we’ll tell you what we think.”

Senate President Don Gaetz had a similar conversation and “would be interested in learning more, if negotiations are finalized,’’ said Gaetz spokesman Katie Betta.

The tribe’s right to operate blackjack and other card games at five of its seven Florida casinos expires next year, and the tribe wants the compact to renew those games. But the agreement must be ratified by the Florida Legislature, where Republican proponents of gaming have joined with their Democratic counterparts to push for an expansion of gambling options at Florida’s pari-mutuels and to bring destination resort casinos to South Florida.

In addition to Lopez Cantera, the governor’s chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth, his general counsel Pete Antonacci have spoken to lawmakers about the prospect of a special session in May to ratify the deal if the agreement is reached.

Scott spokesman Frank Collins denied that there is a deal.

“There is no deal, and without a deal, there cannot be any decision on how to ratify a deal,’’ he said.

Still unknown is what it would take to get an agreement through the House and Senate, where sympathies are strong for the state’s pari-mutuel industry.

To get the votes for a compact, say many legislators, the governor will have to find a way to help Florida’s gaming establishment compete with the tribe — or unify the anti-gambling lawmakers to support a compact that is close to status quo. For most of his term, the governor has not been an aggressive negotiator in the face of a divided Legislature.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who supports expanded gambling has said he will “lead the effort to defeat ratification of the compact if it’s a sellout to the Indians the way the last one was.’’

The strategy the governor may employ is to call the special session after he has received the budget and then hold off on his vetoes until he gets the vote to get it passed.

Under that scenario, he would strategically use the power of his veto pen to help win approval from reluctant lawmakers. The most politically powerful time for a governor to have a special session is before he has issued his vetoes.

But to do that, the governor would need an assurance that he could get the votes and avoid an embarrassing defeat on a controversial issue. 

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and @MaryEllenKlas

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