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Talk of special session on Seminole compact complicates homestretch

Friday, April 25th, 2014 by John Kennedy

With the 2014 Legislature entering its final week, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has been floating the idea of a special session next month to renew the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe that is slated to end next year.

The renewed compact would likely include more money for the state — and could bolster the governor’s leadership credentials heading into his re-election campaign against likely Democratic rival Charlie Crist who as Republican governor from 2007-11, signed the current compact.

But a hurry-up session is complicated.

For those supporting expanded gambling, it presents little chance of putting into play sweeteners for the state’s financially struggling pari-mutuel sites, or making a case for Genting Group, the Malaysian gaming giant looking to open resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Scott’s office, though, sought to quash the special session talk Friday night.

“There is no deal, and without a deal, there cannot be any decision on how to ratify a deal,” said Scott spokesman Frank Collins.

Still, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, acknowledged that he had spoken with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantero about compact negotiations, but that a special session wasn’t discussed.

“They were getting very close. He was kind of updating us on the progress. There were no specifics talked about,” Weatherford said.

The speaker said he responded, “When you have a deal, let us know what it is. We’d love to look at it and we’ll tell you what we think.”

Weatherford earlier talked of possibly considering a gambling expansion during the current legislative session. But it was hinged on a Seminole compact being crafted that allowed such expansion. He also envisioned next putting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that could limit further gambling in Florida.

“I’ve always been a proponent of reducing the amount of gaming in Florida, not expanding it,” Weatherford said. “I don’t know if this compact reduces or expands it.”

House Democrats said Scott’s office hasn’t contacted them. And they vowed to block any compact that focuses solely on the tribe and not pari-mutuels, card rooms and casino resorts.

“The idea about the compact coming back is it should give the Legislature the opportunity to address those things,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek.

Asked if Democratic votes were needed to seal a compact, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale said, “Without a doubt.”

 

Gambling expansion “not in the cards,” Senate told

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Senate Gaming Chairman Garrett Richter addressed the Senate Thursday, telling his colleagues that proposals to revamp gambling in Florida are dead for this session.

Although the session has just passed its midpoint, Richter said what had become increasingly clear: There are just too many moving parts to the issue.

“Comprehensive reform is not in the cards this session,” Richter, R-Naples, told the Senate.

In an election year, keeping alive prospects for opening new casino resorts in South Florida, additional card rooms at pari-mutuel facilities, and other sweeteners, has been a surefire way to assure that campaign contributions flow from gambling companies to lawmakers and the state’s political parties.

But central to any idea is Gov. Rick Scott reaching agreement on renewing the Seminole Tribe compact that is set to expire next year. Scott has been talking to the tribe. But the status of the talks have been closely guarded.

Richter fed into that murkiness Thursday.

“We can reasonable expect an agreement soon,” Richter said, although not offering any further details.

But for now, all bets are off.

“This is nothing that’s going to be accomplished by one committee in one session,” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, vice-chair of the Senate’s gambling plan.

House spinning wheels over Internet cafés

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A ban on Internet cafés poised for a House floor vote appears to be dead in the Senate, which likely won’t do anything about regulating the so-called “casinos on the corner” either.

A Senate committee approved a measure regulating the cafés, and would have killed a bill to ban them despite the support of Gov. Rick Scott who said they should be outlawed.

“Candidly, the Internet cafés are not a major pressing issue in our world. We’re focused on the budget,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said.

Haridopolos pointed out a proposal to ban the cafés would not have made it through its first committee stop and said his chamber would “take a look” at the measure (HB 3) if the House passes it.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not our major focal point. I guess some people are really excited about taking that issue on. It’s pretty low on our totem pole,” Haridopolos said.

A pair of competing legal opinions – one from the Seminole Tribe’s lawyers and another from lawyers for the cafés – say that SB 390 that would regulate the cafés would nullify a compact with the tribe potentially losing the state $233 million a year, or that it wouldn’t.

Sheriff’s office, Seminoles dispute Bondi casino ‘money laundering’ claim

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Hillsborough County Sheriff‘s Office says it hasn’t investigated any links between drugsters and money laundering at Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, contradicting a claim made by Attorney General Pam Bondi last week.

“According to Chief Deputy Docobo, one of our detectives had a personal conversation with the Attorney General at a private function regarding money laundering in casinos. However our office has not conducted any investigation involving money laundering at casinos, nor do we have any official information that this type of criminal activity is/has occurred in Hillsborough County,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Bondi joined other anti-gambling forces at a press conference last week to publicly denounce a “destination resorts” proposal that would allow three casinos to open in the state. “Many money laundering cases” related to the casino, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, was one of the reasons Bondi gave for opposing the bill (SB 710).

The Sun Sentinel’s Nick Sortal blogged about the money laundering dispute:

But Bondi says that’s what she was told, and her office issued this statement Wednesday:

“At a charitable event on Nov. 12, I spoke with a deputy from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office regarding the gambling issue. I was absolutely told that in many of the last drug trafficking cases that they made, the money was laundered at the casino.”

Seminole Tribe Chairman James Billie had a blistering response to Bondi’s accusations in an op-ed slated to run in the tribe’s newspaper later this month.

“As long as I have been Chairman, since way back in 1979, and during the years I was out of office, I have never seen any information, whatsoever, come across my desk about money laundering,” Billie wrote. “In all these years the Seminole Tribe has conducted Gaming, since 1979, no audit has ever found any fraud, theft, embezzlement or large variances of any kind.”

The dispute over money-laundering puts the AG and the tribe at odds even though they’re both on the same side in opposing the bill.

“I am very disappointed to hear one of our top Florida government leaders come forward with such a statement that is so damaging to the reputation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida without checking its accuracy or even contacting us for our comments,” Billie said in his column.

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