Is new gaming pact a good bet?

Proposed new deal allows the Seminoles to add craps and roulette and other table games at the tribe’s seven casinos
Proposed new deal allows the Seminoles to add craps and roulette and other table games at the tribe’s seven casinos AP

It’s a good bet that Gov. Rick Scott’s $3 billion gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe will provoke heated discussion in the upcoming session of the Legislature. Whether it’s a good bet for Florida is another question. This is a major expansion of gambling in Florida, with serious implications for Miami-Dade County.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Florida is a gambling venue, although the state’s leaders don’t like to say that aloud out of respect for (or fear of) residual anti-gambling sentiment from some old-line Floridians. Realistically, the games will go on. But the new pact unveiled by Gov. Scott this month unequivocally raises the stakes.

Expansion, Part One: It allows the Seminoles to not only keep the current “banked” card games such as blackjack, but they also are permitted to add craps and roulette and other table games at the tribe’s seven casinos. This includes both the Hard Rock and Seminole Classic in Hollywood and the Seminole Coconut Creek. That’s a long step toward Las Vegas-style operations.

Expansion, Part Two: It allows the eight parimutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward to add more slot machines and — big AND — gives them permission to operate blackjack games, within limits (a maximum initial bet of $15 in the first year, for example, and rising after that), and if voters approve via a referendum.

Expansion, Part Three: It allows new pari-mutuel casinos, with slot machines, in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties — again, if voters approve.

Expansion, Part Four: The deal allows the tribe to operate as many as 3,000 slot machines on average at each of its seven facilities, and up to 6,000 at a single site.

In addition, Gov. Scott’s 61-page agreement could, for example, spell the eventual end of dog racing because it removes the provision that tracks operate a minimum number of races in order to have slot machines or poker games.

Even though the governor denies that it expands the opportunity to run casinos to others besides the Seminoles, it certainly opens the door for that possibility. Genting, the Malaysian firm that bought the old Miami Herald site along Biscayne Bay, has expressed interest in having a gambling spot at that location. The Fontainebleau has similarly expressed interest in running a gambling site. At this point, what the deal proposes is “only” a new parimutuel, but would anyone bet against the likelihood that an expansion would soon follow, with the ultimate objective of running a full-fledged resort casino in Miami-Dade?

A new deal with the Seminoles was necessary after the previous compact expired in July. Working with Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island the governor came up with a plan that provides $3 billion in revenue, a significant amount for a cash-strapped state, from the Seminoles over seven years. Without a pact, the tribe could continue to operate games without giving the state anything.

We are also glad that key provisions require voter approval: No referendum, no deal. And it’s a better plan than other proposals that have surfaced in the Legislature over the years to add multiple “destination resort” casinos across Florida.

Still, expansion begets more expansion. Whether this is a good bet for Miami-Dade County and its residents will largely depend on implementation legislation. Before the legislative session states, local leaders should let the public know where they stand.