SPECIAL REPORT: The Seminole Compact explained

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After three years, a lawsuit, and countless rounds of discussions and negotiations, it appears that the gaming compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe finally will come to fruition.

The third time must be the charm as the two previous iterations of the compact have failed; the first signed 2007 was declared null by the Florida Supreme Court and the second from 2009 was rejected by the Florida Legislature.

The latest compact grants the tribe exclusive operation of house-banked card games, including blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer, in Florida at the Seminole casinos in Coconut Creek, Hollywood, Immokalee, and the Seminole Hard Rock Casinos in Hollywood and Tampa. It also authorizes the tribe to convert their “Class II” bingo machines to “Class III” slot machines at all seven facilities. The compact was signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and the tribe on April 7, subsequently approved by the Florida Legislature. Crist will seek final approval by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

In exchange for exclusivity in offering house-banked card games, the compact provides for revenue-sharing with the state. The agreement guarantees a minimum payment to the state for the first five years of $1 billion. After the initial five years, the state can permit the games to continue and payments would be based upon the profits received by the tribe. The tribe may reduce or cease payments if exclusivity is lost or if additional games are authorized for parimutuel facilities.

Rep. Bill Galvano (R-Brandenton)  is chairman of the House Select Committee on Seminole Compact Review, and he has served as one of the influential architects in negotiating and developing the compact.

Committee members praised the compact as the resolution of a “19-year standoff” between the state and the tribe that would inject some much-needed economic aid into the state’s coffers.

Though the compact was criticized by members of the parimutuel industry, the proposal is paired with legislation that will lower the slot machine tax rate, expand the poker hours and betting limits and permit facilities to add bingo-style and historic racing machines.
While the parimutuel industry and the Internet poker companies left the Capitol by and large disappointed, (a bill to create an Internet poker system in Florida didn’t advance), the poker expansions afforded parimutuel cardrooms allow Florida’s players to take their games to the next level. 

Kudos to all who weighed in with the legislators and their staff for asking these issues be put to bed once and for all!

— Marc W. Dunbar is a shareholder with Tallahassee law firm Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell & Dunbar, P.A.  He represents several gaming clients before the Florida Legislature and teaches gambling and parimutuel law at the Florida State University College of Law.