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Florida Gambling expansion could go to voters

Facing the prospect of a constitutional amendment that could put control of future gambling expansion in the hands of voters, legislative leaders are working behind the scenes on a pared-down plan to cement a deal with the Seminole Tribe and pacify cardroom operators.

The “Voter Control of Gambling Amendment,” largely bankrolled by a Disney company and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, will be on the November ballot after meeting petition requirements this past week. If approved, it would require voter approval for any proposed form of casino gambling, an issue now largely controlled by the Legislature.

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who has been a key player in crafting gambling legislation for more than seven years, told The News Service of Florida the constitutional amendment would give the Seminole Tribe a “a monopoly” over gambling in the state.

Galvano called the constitutional amendment “a game changer,” after industry insiders had predicted that gambling issues would be off the table during the legislative session that ends in March.

“It does require us to really look hard at any possible changes we can make in the gaming world at the pari-mutuel level and to solidify or make some final decisions with the Seminole Tribe. Because the way this amendment is worded, and it’s still being analyzed, but once it passes, if it passes, will mean the Legislature is divested of control of this issue, leaving a monopoly for the Seminole Tribe, and their continued payments to the state of Florida in jeopardy,” said Galvano, who is slated to take over as Senate president after the November elections.

The Seminoles have been trying to get the Legislature to re-authorize a deal, signed in 2010, that gave the tribe “exclusive” rights to operate banked card games, such as blackjack, at most of its casinos in exchange for a minimum of $250 million each year. The agreement — part of a 20-year deal called a “compact” — expired in 2015, but the tribe has continued to offer the games.

After the card games portion of the agreement expired, the tribe sued the state over wildly popular “designated player” card games offered by more than a dozen pari-mutuel cardrooms. A federal judge in 2016 ruled in favor of the tribe, and Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminoles reached an agreement this past year in which gambling regulators promised to take “aggressive enforcement action” against pari-mutuels that might be violating state law in the way they conduct designated player games.

The agreement expires in March, which could be problematic for state lawmakers trying to figure out how much money they have to spend in the future, according to Galvano.

“There is the possibility that, with the designated-player game issue not resolved, that the tribe may elect to stop paying. They have not told me that, but that’s a real possibility,” he said.

Whether the Seminoles continue to pay “is contingent on their satisfaction” with how well state gambling regulators police the games, the senator said.

For the past several years, lawmakers have repeatedly attempted —- and failed —- to reach consensus on a revamped gambling deal. While the Senate has been more amenable to an expansion of gambling, the House has been reluctant, and ultimately the deals died.

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/gambling-expansion-could-voters/NgbQeAFaZibvhDeTRrw9EK/