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Groups Lobby For, Against Seminole Compact

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Lawmakers have yet to unveil legislation for the plan, but none the less, a gaming agreement between Florida and the Seminole Indian tribe is on the tip of many lobbyists’ tongues. The tribe released an advertisement on the deal Tuesday, while others are taking polls and holding press conferences to get their opinions heard.

The Seminole gaming compact gives the tribe exclusive rights to offer certain types of gaming. But last year, the portion of the compact that allowed the tribe to hold blackjack games expired. Since then, Gov. Rick Scott and the tribe have worked out a new deal. It reinstates the blackjack provision and adds craps and roulette. In exchange the tribe would pay the state $3-billion over the course of seven years. Some, like the Florida Chamber of Commerce are in favor of the move.

“The Florida Chamber has long said that a new compact with the Seminole tribe is really Florida’s best way to limit the expansion of gambling in Florida, and also really to protect our state’s family friendly brand,” says chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley.

Ousley's group supports the compact and says a poll it conducted shows most Floridians do too.

“Floridians are nearly unanimous in agreeing that our state is a family friendly tourist destination and they support a continued partnership with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and fully 95 percent of Florida voters say that they consider the state’s entertainment options to be family friendly and they have a favorable perception of the tribal compact that we’ve had existing in Florida and they have – by nearly 3-to-1—a favorable view of the proposed compact,” Ousley says.

Ousley says the chamber thinks the compact will help to hold the line, creating a balance between gaming and the family friendly businesses that are important to the state’s economy. And John Sowinski, President of the lobbying group, No Casinos, says in many ways his group understands where the chamber is coming from.

“Because we agree, by the way, that the idea of a compact that grants exclusivity to keep gambling out of other areas is not a bad idea. That’s a worthwhile pursuit. We simply think that the deal that was signed by the governor and the tribe doesn’t do that," Sowinski says.

Sowinski says a close look at the proposed compact shows the new agreement hammered out by the tribe and Scott contains more than meets the eye.

“The thing that we fear about this compact is that it has things that are more likely to trigger legislative action to expand,” Sowinski says.

Sowinski uses the example of the Palm Beach Kennel Club. The compact paves the way for the pari-mutuel to operate slot machines.

“Now, I’m not sure what public purpose that serves. It’s there for pragmatic reasons, I believe in that they think the Palm Beach Kennel Club could stop a compact that didn’t include that,” Sowinkski says.

And Sowinski believes if lawmakers approve slots for the Kennel Club, that will lead to a domino effect of more gaming in more places.

“We think it’s very likely if this passed that Palm Beach County would be successful and get their slot machines. And that’s not going to happen without the pari-mutuels in Dade and Broward getting the blackjack that they’d be allowed under this compact. And that’s not going to happen without the North Florida pari-mutuels and others around the state getting their historic racing machines. You all know how that works. And that is what we consider a recipe for the expansion of gambling that’s not in the predecessor compact,” Sowinkski says.

Sowinski says his group is launching a three pronged approach to stop the expansion of gambling in Florida. It includes legislative opposition, a court case relating to slot machines at certain pari-mutuels and finally a proposed constitutional amendment that would require any gaming to be included in the constitution and require that any additions be made through citizen initiatives not legislative action.

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