Last Updated: Wednesday, January 04, 2017, 6:47 AM EST
The recent passage of voter-approved referendums authorizing slot machines in two more Florida counties is jeopardizing the state's gaming exclusivity compact with the Seminole Tribe, a lucrative agreement leading lawmakers appear willing to forfeit even as a state budget deficit looms.
- Slot machine referendum threatens Florida's pact with Seminoles
- Currently compact guarantees exclusivity
- Eight counties are jeopardize the $3 billion deal
The compact was signed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010 and has resulted in more than $1 billion in tribal payments to the state.
With its expiration at hand in 2015, Gov. Rick Scott renegotiated its terms, convincing the Seminoles to hand the state $3 billion over the course of seven years. The legislature has yet to ratify the renewed compact.
The slot machine referendums, however, threaten to undermine the compact's guarantee of exclusivity. Eight counties have now voted to allow slots at parimutuels and, while the legislature could choose to intervene, that prospect now appears unlikely.
"If voters in a particular county approve more gaming opportunities, I think we should respect the decision of those citizens and those communities to shape the way they want their communities to look, and we should honor that rather than stand in the way of it," Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart) told reporters last month.
An open question is whether tax revenue from the parimutuel slots could outstrip tribal royalties under the compact. The answer could be critical: with state economists projecting a $1.3 billion deficit next year, gaming revenues will play a big role in bridging the gap.
The budgetary uncertainty appears to be playing into the Seminoles' negotiating strategy. While the original gaming compact has expired, the tribe is still abiding by its terms - including its nine-figure annual payments, according to a statement provided Tuesday.
"Seminole Tribe of Florida representatives have met with Gov. Scott as part of their ongoing effort and continuing desire to finalize a new gaming Compact with the State of Florida. As further evidence of its positive approach, the Tribe is continuing to make monthly Compact payments to the state that totaled $306 million in 2016. The Seminole Tribe is open to discussions and negotiations as part of its continuing desire to finalize a new gaming compact with the State of Florida, but the Tribe prefers not to negotiate in the media," the statement reads.