TALLAHASSEE - A key lawmaker has pulled the plug on a legislative plan to broaden gambling in Florida during this year's session, but supporters promise to revive the effort next year.
The surprise move was announced in the middle of a Senate budget discussion by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, who had led the discussion to implement more gambling in the state, opening it up to outside interests, including Las Vegas-style casinos in South Florida, as well as to establish a gaming commission to oversee the sector in the state.
Richter cited the ongoing negotiations between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Indian tribe, which has seven gambling establishments in the state that include a contract between the state and the tribe.
One of the central elements of the deal is a provision that guarantees a degree of gambling exclusivity for the tribe.
"Recently it has become very apparent to all of us who are tracking this issue that unless the governor negotiates a new compact with the Seminole tribe, there won't be any comprehensive reform legislation this year," Richter said. "Sound policy must take into account the compact's substantial revenue sharing and exclusivity provisions."
The deal between the state and the tribe, signed four years ago, leans heavily on giving the Seminoles exclusivity several games. The contract overall ends in 2030, but a provision on some games ends next year, which is the element that the governor is currently in talks with the tribe about.
Violating that exclusivity would put the state at the risk of losing substantial money. Richter said he is told that the negotiations are going well, "and I think we can reasonably expect an agreement soon that will significantly alter revenue sharing and revenue sharing provisions."
But he added, "If we put the gaming reform cart in front of the Seminole compact horse, we run the risk of getting policies at cross purposes."
At the start of the session, the House and Senate each presented a bill of over 400 pages aimed at creating a new structure for gambling in the state. Both measures included provisions to give voters a say on the matter.
Expanded gambling is opposed by groups including the Seminole tribe and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Both Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Malaysian-based Genting Group have courted lawmakers for years in hopes of landing choice spots for large casinos in South Florida.
"This is an issue that is going to take a lot more work," said Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs, D-Delray Beach. "There are issues that we cannot resolve. We're at step one. Now it's up to the executive branch and the people of Florida to decide."
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