Florida Legislature rejects $3 billion gambling deal (updated)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A proposed $3 billion deal negotiated between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that would have expanded gambling across the state collapsed Friday after it was rejected by state legislators.

The deal died after the Florida House failed to consider a major gambling bill that would allowed the tribe to add craps and roulette at their existing casinos. The bill would have also allowed slot machines to be added at existing dog and horse tracks across the state.

House leaders did not take up the legislation because a companion measure had stalled in the Senate and top GOP legislators in that chamber said they had no plans to consider it. The session ends March 11 and backers of the legislation said they would abandon any efforts to pass the bill.

“Going into today we knew full well that the gaming bills were on life support,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican who was part of the state’s team that negotiated with the tribe. “The House was hoping for a miracle, but by the close of the day we saw one was not coming and had no option but to pull the plug.”

This was the first time in six years that a gambling bill had gotten traction in the Republican-controlled House, which had rejected past attempts to bring new casinos to South Florida. But the legislation stumbled in the Senate as various interests – including the owners of existing tracks that compete against the Seminoles – pushed for changes that were not part of the initial deal approved by tribal officials.

The demise of the deal could scuttle a promise by the tribe to add thousands of new jobs and a $1.8 billion expansion of its casinos at Tampa and Hollywood. Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen last month said the tribe needs the certainty of the proposed compact to move forward.

A tribe spokesman on Friday said they would not comment on the legislative decision to reject the compact.

Scott and the tribe late last year worked out a deal allowing the tribe to add roulette and craps and keep blackjack tables at its casinos in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. That deal also allowed slot machines to be added to a track in Palm Beach county and allowed a new casino to open in Miami-Dade. But others in the gambling industry heavily lobbied the Legislature to make substantial changes to the deal.

The bills that began moving had added provisions that would have also allowed slot machines in tracks in north Florida as well as in Brevard and Lee counties. Top Senate Republicans said all the changes pushed by gambling lobbyists made it harder to support the proposal.

“Every time you put a gaming bill up in the Florida Legislature it’s like throwing a side of beef into a shark tank,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican.

The failure of the Legislature to approve the deal means that the future of gambling in the state could be decided by the courts. The Seminoles and the state of Florida have both filed federal lawsuits because a previous 2010 deal allowing blackjack tables expired last year. The Florida Supreme Court also has agreed to consider a lawsuit that argues slot machines should be allowed at an existing track 25 miles west of Tallahassee.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Destin Republican and attorney, predicted that the state would lose its litigation with the tribe. He said lawmakers should have reached a deal that could have preserved the state’s share of money from the Seminoles.

“If we don’t take action as a Legislature we will surrender the state’s involvement in this critical decision making process,” Gaetz said.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.