Florida House Signs Off on Seminole Compact

It looks like this compact with the Seminoles is going to happen. With a 74-39 vote, the compact passed through the House on Monday. The Florida Senate has already approved the compact with a 29-9 vote. Now all that’s left is for Governor Charlie Crist to sign off and then it’s off to the federal Department of Interior, who oversees all state-tribal gambling compacts in the U.S.

And the good news is that Crist has already said that he will sign the compact despite the fact that the Seminole’s payments will no longer go to education—something that Crist was strongly in favor of. To make the Legislature happy the money is now going into the state’s general revenue fund. This is disappointing because the education of Florida’s children should have come first.

In the next fiscal year this compact will put $435 million into the state’s budget, which is much in need of the money.

The compact will allow the Seminoles to have blackjack in their casinos. Originally the tribe wanted blackjack in all seven of their casinos, but they compromised with the deal that blackjack would be allowed at five of their casinos. The Seminoles will also have the full market on Vegas-style slot machines, except in Broward and Miami-Dade counties because voters in those counties had already approved those games.

But not everyone is happy to see the Seminoles get their blackjack.

The pari-mutuels are one such group. They feel that with the Seminoles having the only blackjack tables and the almost monopoly on the Vegas-style slots will leave the tracks unable to compete. However, the compact allows pari-mutuels to extended hours and offer higher poker limits.

Other opponents include the religious conservatives who worry about the morals of the citizens of Florida. Rep. Charles Van Zant is quoted saying that the compact “is evil and brings evil upon Floridians” and that “it damages our faith, our families and our freedoms.”

But what he is failing to see is that the allowance of blackjack and the Vegas-style slots will provide a boost to gambling tourism—and this is a state that doesn’t have a state income tax because of its tourism.

Florida also has extensive gambling offerings, proving that residents are okay with gambling. Florida is home to eight Indian casinos, a state Lottery with 13,000 retailers, gambling cruises and twenty seven pari-mutuels.

With all the gambling that is done in Florida it is about time that some of that money be returned to the state to support it, even if it isn’t going into education. The pari-mutuels and religious conservatives had better get prepared because it looks like blackjack is going to be legal in Florida.

Florida Legislature All About Money

Florida is suffering from a $3.2 billion shortfall in its budget, which includes a very hard hit to education. The problem? Florida’s children risk a loss of teachers and programs, and even some scholarships.

With that in mind, Governor Charlie Crist made that his push behind the Seminole blackjack and slots compact in his talks with the state’s Legislature. He was known to say, “Do it for the children.”

The first two compacts that the Seminoles and state Legislature have squabbled over have both gone bust. Then all of a sudden here is a third compact and it’s heading for approval.

This third run at a compact would give the Seminoles five years of exclusivity for blackjack tables, and twenty years for Vegas-style slots; the only other places in Florida where slots can be found is in two counties in which voters had already approved Vegas-style slots within county lines. In exchange for this blackjack exclusivity the Seminoles are going to be paying Florida more than $1 billion dollars over five years.

However you can’t make everyone happy. And this time around it was the pari-mutuels who felt that they would be unable to compete with the Seminoles’ casinos if they were given exclusivity to blackjack and slots, even with higher poker limits and extended hours of operation. Initially it appeared that the Legislature was siding with the pari-mutuels. But the truth always comes out.

So what made this third compact agreeable to the state Legislature? It wasn’t the extensions or even the possible tax break for the pari-mutuels. The Legislature was never on the side of the pari-mutuels. What has been over-looked is where that $1 billion plus dollars for blackjack exclusivity are going. And it’s not going to the children.

The Legislature has been out for money the whole time. It seems its hang up didn’t have to do with the pari-mutuels feeling like the compact was unfair. It had to do with where the money was going. Change the money’s destination and the Legislature likes the compact now.

So where is the money from the Seminoles exclusivity to blackjack going?

It will be going into the state’s general revenue fund. That means that the state government *cough, cough* Legislature can decided how the money is to be spent. It’s a sad day when part of the government is willing to short fall their children’s education so that they can have power of this money.

More Opposition to the Seminole’s Blackjack

While the most recent bill to settle the long-standing conflict between the State of Florida and the Seminoles works its way through the House and soon the Senate, more voices are coming forward to cry out against the Seminole’s exclusivity.

If the bill runs its course through the House, the Senate and finally to Governor Charlie Crist, the Seminoles would have to pay $1.5 billion over five years to have exclusivity to games like blackjack. There would be an immediate payment to the state of $435 million. And with a $3.2 billion gap in the Florida budget the money is needed—particularly for education.

However there are two groups that are very much against the Seminoles winning this exclusivity—one for greed and one for the good of our own morale well-being.

The first group is comprised of the pari-mutuels of Florida. The dog and horse tracks have been a part of Florida’s gambling culture for decades. But the last few years there has been a decline in interest at the dog and horse tracks.

This could be for a couple of reasons. 1. The people are no longer interested in betting on dog and horse races, and have been attracted to the Vegas-style games like blackjack that can now be found within their own state—no more travelling to Vegas or Atlantic City for the casino experience. 2. With the increase in awareness of animal abuse, many people feel that the treatment of dog and horses in the races are not treated humanely, and that the races themselves are inhuman.

Pari-mutuels fear losing business to the tribe casinos. They fear that they won’t be able to compete. Unfortunately, times change and people’s interest changes. While the tracks site that they will be forced to cut jobs due to a loss of income thanks to the Seminoles and their blackjack tables, the tribe casinos will be in the position to create new jobs under this compact.

Now the other group of opponents that are trying to save us from ourselves. Members of Florida Family Action and the Florida Baptist Convention, along with other opponents, want the entire deal scrapped, saying that offering Vegas-style games like blackjack will increase family problems through addictions and will increase crime.

But what they’re forgetting is that Florida is at odds with the Seminoles, a sovereign nation. And they can’t be at odds forever. The battle over the Seminoles exclusivity to blackjack has to end because Florida can’t be at odds with a sovereign nation within its borders.

There is also Florida’s history of gambling to consider. The state has had dog and horse tracks for decades. Floridians have been gambling for decades. They want to gamble and forcing them to outside of the state will mean a loss of income for Florida.

It seems that these morally opposed groups feel that the only way to gamble is often and with large sums of money. Apparently they haven’t heard of playing as a form of entertainment or of low-stakes games.

And what about the much needed money for the state? Are Florida’s children supposed to suffer because a handful of groups want to tell us what is good for us?

But the opponents to the Seminoles having exclusivity to blackjack will have to come to terms with it because it seems this compact is going to go through and be signed. It appears that Florida knows its children need their education.