Time’s running out on reaching a gambling deal during this spring’s legislative session, but Senate President Bill Galvano said Wednesday he’s “encouraged” by the status of talks between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Senate’s lead negotiator.
Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican slated to succeed Galvano as Senate president after the 2020 elections, has been negotiating with Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming, in hopes of revamping a gambling agreement, known as a “compact,” between the tribe and the state.
Gambling issues come up during every session, but lawmakers have repeatedly been unable to pass major gambling legislation in recent years. Galvano acknowledged rumors buzzing through the Capitol on Wednesday that “a deal has been struck or something of that nature.”
But, he said, “We’re not there yet.”
Galvano was the chief negotiator on a deal between the Seminoles and the state that’s reaped Florida more than $2.2 billion since it was signed in 2010. A key provision of the compact gave tribal casinos “exclusive” rights to offer banked card games, such as blackjack. But that provision expired five years ago.
The tribe and the Seminoles have clashed at times about what are known as “designated player” games offered by numerous pari-mutuel facilities throughout Florida. Siding with the Seminoles, a federal judge ruled in 2016 that designated player games breached the tribe’s exclusive rights to offer banked card games. Under an agreement reached with former Gov. Rick Scott, the tribe has continued to make payments to the state.
But that agreement expires at the end of May, jeopardizing payments from the Seminoles, and Galvano isn’t counting on the tribe’s annual $350 million payment in next year’s budget.
Any new deal could involve a variety of issues, including proposals to allow sports betting in Florida — a possibility opened by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in a New Jersey case.
Sports betting “is part of the discussions,” Galvano said.
Online betting and additional casino games for the Seminoles, such as craps and roulette, also are among issues up for discussion, according to sources familiar with the talks.
“There’s still a lot that has to be done before anything can be finalized, but I am encouraged,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Wednesday evening.
The controversial designated player games also likely would be an element of any pact.
Galvano pointed out that the card games already have been addressed by the courts and by state gambling regulators.
“So the status of that is what it is. It’s just been more of a question of enforcement (by the state), so reference to enforcement is something that is on the table, too,” Galvano said.
Even if the Senate and the Seminoles reach agreement, that doesn’t necessarily mean a deal would be approved before the legislative session ends on May 3. The House and Gov. Ron DeSantis would also have to sign off.
The Senate president gave little away about what how much money a new deal could bring.
“The revenue share is at the heart of any agreement that we have with the Seminole Tribe, so that’s one of the key drivers. So if we are able to reach an accord, there will be sufficient funds that the tribe will share. They’re currently paying close to $350 million a year. We would expect more,” he said.