Florida Gaming Congress: One point of agreement

Even though there was a wide variety of viewpoints at a daylong discussion of gambling in Florida, there was one point of agreement among legislators, lawyers and even CEOs. And it concerned the methodology for working out the details of a proposal that could bring blackjack to South Florida racetrack casinos, slot machines to Palm Beach County, craps and roulette to Seminole casinos and $3.1 billion in payments from the tribe to the state.
The principals framed the issue the same way.

“It’s a Rubik’s Cube, where one turn affects everything else,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano told those attending his lunchtime keynote speech Thursday. “You can’t address one segment of this industry without addressing every aspect.”

“A Rubik’s cube,” gambling attorney Marc Dunbar said.

“We just gotta work this Rubik’s cube,” was the opinion of late addition James Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming.

Hungarian sculptor Enrique Rubik, who invented the toy game in 1974, should be pleased that his work, created at the Budapest College of Applied Arts, can serve as a daylong metaphor.

The 10th annual Florida Gaming Congress, as usual, focused on the future, which in this case involves a proposal that Gov. Rick Scott has sent to the Florida Legislature. The Seminoles would pay $3.1 billion over seven years to offer table games, craps and roulette at its seven casinos. Allen said that money is to protect exclusive casino rights outside of South Florida, although Scott suggested ways to benefit horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons in Florida, and Allen said he could live with them.

That includes slots at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, $15-a-hand max bet blackjack at South Florida horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons and one additional slot permit in Miami-Dade, which those at the conference said could go to Genting.

“That doesn’t mean we support those exceptions or that they’re going to occur,” Allen said. “But the tribe would still be committed to its revenue share to the state of Florida.

“It gives the state tremendous flexibility in the future in this document, which we recognize will be significantly debated.”
Allen also pointed out that tribe is committing $1.8 billion in expansion projects, including second hotels at the Seminole Hard Rocks in Tampa and Hollywood.

“We need the opportunity to expand,” he said. “And we’re not competing for the pari-mutuel customer. We’re looking for overnight guests and those on two, three or four-hour plane ride. That is our future.”

He also noted that roulette and craps aren’t really game-changers wouldn’t bring as much revenue as you might think, but that since 72 percent of Argentine gamblers list roulette as their favorite game, and if you’re trying to get an international crowd, hey, what would you do?

The five-year agreement for blackjack expired in July and a 90-day grace period took it to the end of October. Since then, the state has filed suit to stop the games and the tribe has filed suit, saying the state’s allowance of electronic blackjack and three-card poker in recent years voided the agreement that gave them exclusivity.

Allen took questions and Calder President Maureen Adams, Hialeah President John Brunetti and Hialeah VP Steve Calabro called him out on his willingness to allow only lower-stakes blackjack at racetrack casinos. Each time, Allen noted that the tribe’s payments are for benefits over and beyond what is usual and prevailing in a jurisdiction. So it wouldn’t be fair for the tribe to pay to offer games that everybody else has and the Bureau of Indian Affairs wouldn’t allow such a compact to clear anyway, he said.

And Adams noted Calder lost more than $5 million on thoroughbred racing, Magic City’s Izzy Havenick said dog racing at his facility continues to die, and those opposed to the sport will succeed in getting it banned statewide within 10 years anyway.

“It’s slow, it’s hot, it’s boring,” he said. “Most people who come to my facility don’t even know we have a race track.”
Havenick predicted “a whole lot of nothing” in the legislature, although he noted that a Supreme Court case that could bring slots to Gadsden County could have a massive impact, because five other counties that passed referendums also would likely get them, too. NoCasinos’ John Sowinski (correctly) pointed out that those referendums should be challenged because they were voted upon as a suggestion, not law (my words), so nobody, such as NoCasinos, mounted any opposition.

Galvano said, “There’s a very real possibility we don’t pass a compact this session.”

Another panelist also noted the Florida Legislature has had moments of dysfunction: Last April the House unilaterally ended the annual session with more than three days left because of the health care stalemate.

The legislative session starts Tuesday.