Florida’s governor reaches compact with Seminoles; must be approved by Legislature

Gov. Rick Scott has told reporters he’ll “respect the decision” of the Legislature about the deal he struck with the Seminole Tribe of Florida renewing exclusive rights to offer blackjack at its casinos in return for $3 billion over seven years.

Scott briefly answered questions after this week’s Cabinet meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday morning.

He and others spent months going back and forth on the terms, heralding the details Monday night with a statement that the new agreement is the “largest revenue share guarantee in history.”

Less than 24 hours later, however, he largely deferred to lawmakers.

“I’m just the first part of the process,” Scott said. “Now it goes to the Legislature. I’ll respect the decision of President (Andy) Gardiner and Speaker (Steve) Crisafulli.

“It goes to them and they’ll make a decision if they want to look at the compact, if they want to bring it up for a vote, when they want to bring it up for a vote,” Scott said. “I took the time to do a historic compact. It’s good for the state. But the Legislature will decide whether they want to go forward.”

In fact, within hours of the deal’s release, lawmakers began sowing it with seeds of doubt.

House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa, for instance, told FloridaPolitics.com that “any time you pick winners and losers, it is a very heavy lift in the Legislature.”

Young, whose own gambling overhaul legislation died last session, said Scott’s deal favored tribal gambling at the expense of “the free market,” she said.

“You know that you need 61 votes” in the 120-member House, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz told the Associated Press. The Miami Republican helped negotiate the deal. “How you get there is a matter of compromise and creativity.”

Blackjack has been big money for the tribe and for the state. In 2010, the tribe agreed to pay at least $1 billion into the state treasury for rights to offer the card game at seven of its casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

The blackjack provision expired this year and had to be renewed, though not before both sides sued each other in federal court. The future of those cases is unclear.

At a holiday press breakfast Tuesday, Gardiner – an Orlando Republican – told reporters he doesn’t want to build the expected money from the new Seminole Compact into the 2016-17 state budget.

“I am not sure it would be responsible for us at this point to build a budget if you don’t know you are really going to get (the money),” Gardiner said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

He did say the Senate will debate and vote on the agreement in the 2016 Legislative Session.