Seminoles ask employees to contribute to PAC

Though state lawmakers have repeatedly rejected a push to bring large-scale resort casinos to Florida, the king of the state’s current gambling landscape — the Seminole Tribe — is bracing for another battle over the issue when the Legislature reconvenes next year.

In fact, the tribe is calling in the reinforcements, asking its nearly 10,000 gaming employees to contribute to a recently formed political action committee that will push the tribe’s agenda in Tallahassee.

“Earlier this year we saw a number of high-profile gaming companies express their desire to operate casinos in the state of Florida,” Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen wrote in a June 5 memo to employees.

“As you know this issue died in the last legislative session,” Allen continued. “But I can assure you it is not over.”

Attached to the memo was a participation form in which employees could check a box indicating how much they wished to contribute per pay period — as little as $1, as much as $10 or “other.”

Employees also have the option of not contributing, and the form makes a point of assuring them that their advancement within the company will not be affected by their decision.

“This is standard practice in the gaming industry,’’ Tribal spokesman Gary Bitner wrote in a statement to The Miami Herald. “Like other major gaming entities, Seminole Gaming established a PAC and invited team members to voluntarily participate.”

Bitner is correct that the Seminoles are not the only gaming company to form a PAC, though some of the tribe’s competitors (who operate in multiple states) have formed federal PACs instead of the Florida-based PAC the Seminoles now have. And PACs are only one of the many ways that gambling industry operators can influence the political process in Florida, as industry players spent millions in 2011 on lobbyists, campaign contributions and donations to both political parties.

The Seminoles’ PAC will file its first treasurer’s report with the state next month. Two elections law attorneys who reviewed the tribe’s memo to employees said it appeared to be fully compliant with state law.

One of those attorneys, former state Rep. Juan-Carlos “J.C.” Planas, went so far as to call the tribe’s actions “brilliant.” Planas didn’t anticipate the Seminoles would receive a ton of money from employees, but he said their participation in the PAC would help the tribe make the argument that its casino workers feel truly threatened by the possibility of new mega-casinos — and are concerned enough to dig into their own pockets.

“Whoever walks into a representative’s office is going to say ‘I come with the signature of 10,000 employees who could lose their jobs if you don’t do this bill the right way,’ ” Planas said.

The global gaming powerhouses that are pushing Florida to allow casino resorts — including the Genting Group and Las Vegas Sands — will continue making their own jobs-related pitch to lawmakers. It boils down to the assertion that Florida, which is generally regarded as a regional gambling destination, could become an international gambling hot spot by allowing higher-quality operators to set up shop. At one point last year, Genting promised its proposed Miami resort could generate 100,000 jobs, though others called that number inflated.

Las Vegas Sands hasn’t been as extreme as Genting in its promises, but Sands Vice President Andy Abboud continues to make the case that large-scale casino resorts would deliver a bigger economic jolt to the state than Florida’s current compact with the Seminoles.

Asked about the Seminoles’ new PAC, Abboud said “I don’t think it’s a game changer, they can do whatever they want. It’ll be up to the state of Florida to decide.”

Sands has a PAC of its own, a federal one, though Abboud said the PAC isn’t really concerned with promoting gaming. Instead, it supports federal candidates who demonstrate a commitment to free-market principles, he said, even if they might be opposed to gambling. That ideological stance is consistent with Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson — a big-time Republican fundraiser who is expected to donate as much as $100 million to GOP causes this election cycle.

Like the Seminoles, the Sands PAC has solicited donations from company employees, as has a federal PAC run by the parent company of Pompano Beach’s Isle Casino. There’s one difference, though: Federal PACs can only hit up senior-level staffers for donations, so the rank-and-file at Sands and St. Louis-based Isle of Capri are not asked to contribute.

At Miami’s Magic City Casino, meanwhile, there is no PAC in place, and should one be created, there are no plans to ask employees to pitch in.

“The employees work hard for their money,” casino Vice President Isadore Havenick said. “It’s their money.”