Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Seminole gambling pact in Florida looks like a long shot

A player holds his chips during a game of poker.
A player holds his chips during a game of poker. Miami Herald File

Sometimes hackneyed gambling terms are just too perfect to resist. Like “long shot,” “sucker bet,” “snake eyes.” Any of which nicely describe the chances of the Florida Legislature approving the governor’s $3 billion gaming deal with the Seminole Tribe.

Too many disparate interests with too many lobbyists and too much money make the proposed compact anything but a sure thing.

The Seminoles would pay the state $3 billion over seven years for the exclusive right to continue offering blackjack at tribal casinos and add table games like craps and roulette. The money would come with the promise of 4,800 additional jobs.

The Seminole gaming compact will likely be a contentious issue during the 2016 legislative session. Video by Kristen M. Clark/ Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Right off, the proposal set off a howl of opposition from legislators against any deal that might be seen as “an expansion of gambling.” (As if there’s some moral difference between, say, Floridians losing money while playing the electronic virtual roulette and craps machines now available at South Florida casinos and Floridians betting at actual roulette wheels or craps tables.) Perhaps it’s the opposition of influential companies like Disney World that brings moral clarity to anti-gambling lawmakers.

The deal would allow racinos in Miami-Dade and Broward to add blackjack, but only with legislative approval. The Indians would also go along with legislation allowing slot machines at two new casinos. One in Miami-Dade — the long-coveted destination casino — and another at a greyhound track in Palm Beach County, where voters have already approved a slots referendum.

Except legislators representing Lee, Washington, Hamilton, Brevard and Gadsden counties, whose voters have similarly approved slots referendums, are finding the Palm Beach choice pretty damn arbitrary. Black lawmakers are particularly bothered that Gadsden, a majority black, very poor county in North Florida, desperate for an economic boost, was shut out of the 20-year compact.

Folks from Florida horse country around Ocala are incensed that the compact includes language allowing the state to relax or eliminate actual horse or dog racing from racino operations. They’re warning that the compact will devastate the state’s thoroughbred horse industry. (Dog breeders are making the same argument, but greyhound dog racing has fallen into such ill repute, they’re not much of a force in Tallahassee.)

Racinos want more. Pari-mutuels outside South Florida want slots. The big gaming conglomerates from Las Vegas and Asia won’t be happy with the provision allowing only one destination casino in Miami-Dade, shutting out Broward. And everyone has a platoon of lobbyists. Plus, it’s an election year, a time when the default mode for politicians is to avoid anything that reeks of controversy.

I’d put my money on nothing. No deal this legislative session.

Except the big gamble may be that by doing nothing, the Seminoles will continue to operate their seven casinos as usual — except for the part about giving the state all those millions. The tribe has already filed a lawsuit asserting its right to continue offering blackjack. Last week, a federal judge rejected the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Florida, with an ignominious history of getting thumped by the Seminoles in federal court, may be gambling away $3 billion.

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