TALLAHASSEE, FL -- The Seminole tribe will have a five-year exclusive on rights to run slot machines in all seven casinos and blackjack tables in five casinos under a compact announced April 7 by Gov. Charlie Crist and leading Florida lawmakers. The agreement could generate $1 billion in taxes for the state between 2011 and 2016
Despite the fact that dog track owners and others had lobbied for permission to operate video lottery terminals as part of the agreement, VLTs will be not be permitted in smaller, off-reservation venues. Tribal leaders said protection from such competition is necessary to ensure the value of their investment in expanded gambling.
The Senate voted to pass the compact on April 15. A key House committee has also approved it; the full House is expected to debate the measure next week. Crist said he would sign the measure as soon as lawmakers pass it.
Additionally, the compact was approved unanimously last week by the Seminole tribal council. The U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees Native American affairs, must also approve the terms along with the Florida Legislature.
After the Seminoles' five-year exclusive expires, Florida may permit traditional (non-tribal) casinos from Las Vegas and Europe to open for business in the Sunshine State. House rules committee chairman Rep. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) told the Palm Beach Post that Florida may very well become "the Las Vegas of the Southeast."
Florida supported a thriving slot machine industry statewide in the 1930s and 1940s but the machines were outlawed in the '50s as part of efforts to clean up the state's organized crime problems and make it a more attractive tourist destination.
Contemporary state lawmakers have strongly opposed full tribal casino gaming for many years. They finally agreed to the compact this time under pressure from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Interior officials have frequently told states that if they don't come to terms with tribes on their own, the federal government will impose its own terms from Washington.
Adding to lawmakers' motivation to reach a compromise was the fact that the Seminoles had begun operating blackjack tables more than a year ago without Florida's approval. Absent a compact with the tribe, the state was failing to realize any tax revenues from the games.
Despite the state government's decision not to approve VLTs for non-reservation venues, small street operators are not entirely shut out of Florida's legal gambling industry. Hundreds of so-called "adult arcades" around the state offer low-stakes bingo wagering with cash prizes. While some local district attorneys and local police dislike the machines, the issue has rarely come to trial.
To date the only high-profile verdict on the question of bingo legality was rendered in 2006. A jury found in favor of operator Gale Fontaine of the Tropicana Rec Room (Pompano Beach). Fontaine, a high-profile target for law enforcement, was also president of the Florida Arcade Association.
Currently, at least two Forida newspapers are conducting a very public feud over the status of bingo parlors. Hernando Today, a publication of the Tampa Tribune, has run a series of editorials condemning bingo machines. One such editorial, published on April 2, charged: "The games likely are fixed ... The profits likely are in the tens of millions, and none of it is going to the state. A better question might be: How much are the gambling parlor owners reporting to the IRS?"
A rival paper, the Examiner, has defended bingo parlors and legalized gambling generally as good entertainment that can add economic vitality to the community.