Two days ago I predicted that there would not be a Special Session on Gaming in Florida. I said that the issues were too complex, that the House and Senate were too far apart, and that the Seminole Tribe would have to pay less or nothing in taxes to the State, depending on how much exclusivity they still had.
Yesterday evening, the Legislature declared that they had reached an impasse, and would not be holding a Special Session on gaming. According to the Tampa Bay Times, “The decision came after weeks of backroom diplomacy between Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the incoming Senate president and Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, the incoming House speaker. ” An additional reason that was stated for not calling a Special Session was fears that other things might get added, and that the Session would get pout of control.
I had warned in my last post that the House wanted to oppose expansion of gambling, while the Senate was willing to expand it. I also commented on the discussions about “designated player” or “player banked” card games.
According to the Tampa Bay Times “Among the proposals under consideration between the House and Senate was a plan to allow the tribe to reduce its payments to the state by about $160 million a year. To make up the lost revenue, lawmakers proposed allowing the lucrative “designated player” card games, such as Three-Card poker and Ultimate Texas Hold ’em, at parimutuels and applying a tax to those proceeds.
Designated player card games have become the latest opportunity to breathe new life into ailing dog tracks around the state. Melbourne Greyhound Park and the Jacksonville Kennel Club, for example, have been able to hire dozens of new employees because of the revenue. But a federal court has declared the games also violate the compact because they play like banked card games, and the tribe has threatened to withhold payments to the state if regulators don’t halt those games by May 2019.
However, in order for many in the House to claim success in the chamber that opposes gambling, they needed to be able to say there has been significant gaming reduction in the state’s gaming footprint. Oliva had proposed requiring the parimutuels that add slot machines to obtain a gaming license from an existing brick and mortar operation, including cardrooms.
[Senate President Joe] Negron said that proposal, however, was objectionable to many in the Senate, where legislators representing rural areas expressed concern about losing jobs.”
The link to the Tampa Bay Times Article can be found here: http://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/2018/04/26/expand-gambling-in-florida-lawmakers-fold-will-let-voters-decide/
Now we’ll have to see what happens with Amendment Three, the proposed Amendment to the Florida Constitution on voter approval of gambling changes.
Will the Florida Legislature Call a Special Session in the near future to try and pass a gambling bill?
There has been discussion of whether we will have a Special Session in Tallahassee to discuss and hopefully pass comprehensive gambling legislation. I will discuss the possibility of whether a Special Session will be called, and, if so, whether or not it will result in actual legislation.
During the twenty years that I served in the Florida House and Senate, I learned the most basic rule of Special Sessions: “Don’t call one until you have an agreement on what the Legislature will pass.” I can say definitively as of today that the Legislature has not reached an agreement (yet), so as of today, they will not be calling a Special Session.
There are reasons why a Special Session may be called. There is a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution known as Amendment Three which would take away from the Legislature most authority to amend gambling legislation and would instead require voter approval of any changes. This Legislation has been largely funded by the state Amusement Park industry (especially Disney), and has also received substantial support from the Seminole Indian Tribe. I will write more about Amendment Three in a future blog post, but it is sufficient for now to say that many in the Legislature think that a Special Session may be their last chance to make major revisions to the gambling laws of Florida.
Another reason to call a Special Session is more basic politics: Money. Fundraising. The Florida Legislature has finished its Regular Session and is not scheduled to meet again until after the November elections. The current Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, is widely believed to be running for Governor of Florida, although he hasn’t formally filed yet for that position. His best remaining chance of substantial fundraising is from the Gambling industry, if there are discussions of having a Special Session. The two negotiators from the House and Senate on gambling are Speaker-Designate Jose Oliva, and President-Designate Bill Galvano. Their duties as Speaker/President Designates are to raise money for their candidates in their respective Chambers. I regard all three people I’ve mentioned as honorable people, but the ability to raise some additional money for their caucuses should not be overlooked.
I have been told that the current President of the Florida Senate, Joe Negron, who is not running for anything and who has even discussed resigning his seat in the Senate when his term as President is up, has given a deadline to reach an agreement, as he doesn’t want this issue lingering. I was told that the original deadline expired last week, and that the Designates have a short time remaining to reach an agreement. As an aside, I must add an editorial comment that I think Joe Negron has been a great Senate President, and I personally would hate to see him resign and miss his last two years in office.
At the end of the day, I believe that there either will be no Special Session, or the Special Session will be unsuccessful. They’re simply too far apart. The Speaker, who certainly has been sounding like he’s running for Governor, needs to try and be the most conservative guy in the room to do well in a Republican primary. That means he needs to at least sound like he’s passed a conservative bill, reducing gambling. The Senate has been in favor of permitting slot machines in the approximately eight other counties where referendums have passed permitting slot machines, and the Senate has also been in favor of continuing “designated player games”, also known as “player-banked games”, as opposed to House-banked games. Those at least sound like expansions of gambling, and the proposed compromise of closing down some dormant pari-mutuel permits sounds like an insufficient reduction to be seen as a reduction in gambling, if the other items are added.
Many legislators don’t seem to understand the concept of exclusivity under the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Seminoles are currently paying the State of Florida nearly three hundred million dollars per year. In exchange for this, the Seminoles have been given statewide exclusivity on house-banked card games, and regional exclusivity on slot machines. Some legislators seem to think that slot machines can be expanded statewide without affecting the regional exclusivity, and thus the required payments under the existing Seminole Compact. I believe that they’re wrong.
When considering how far apart the House and Senate are, and when further adding in the affect that offering additional slot machines to pari-mutuels throughout the State would have on the Seminole Compact, I believe that there either will be no Special Session on Gambling, or, if there is, it will be unsuccessful.
My former Law Firm, Greenspoon Marder (GM), urged me to discontinue my blog in 2015, so I did. GM is a National Law Firm, and I was their Government Affairs Director and Chaired their Gaming Law Practice Group. When I was elected to the Broward County Commission in November of 2016, representing about 250,000 people in 7 cities, I reluctantly had to resign from GM because of conflicts with them appearing frequently in front of the Broward County Commission. I still have great respect and affection for GM, and still think that they’re a great firm.
Since November of 2016, I’ve had my own law firm, named, not surprisingly, Geller Law Firm. I continue to do a substantial practice in Gaming Law, and continue to speak and be interviewed on Gaming Law issues. For example, last weekend I spoke at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting. The topic was Indian Gaming Law in general, and the Seminole Indian Gaming Compact in particular. I will be speaking at the next National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) conference in July in Cleveland. I’ve continued to advise national Banking and Investment houses on gaming issues, and have continued to offer advice and legal opinions to clients and the media.
My new website should be completed within the next few weeks, and I’ll give the website address when it’s finalized. In the meantime, anyone that needs to reach me can reach me at Steve@gellerlawfirm.com .
I will be starting to blog again, and should have a gaming-specific article posted by next week.
Feel free to contact me.