TALLAHASSEE — Don’t be surprised if the Florida Legislature makes no move toward a statewide gambling overhaul this legislative session, Senate President Don Gaetz said Wednesday.
Gov. Rick Scott “holds the cards” because Scott is expected to renegotiate the revenue-sharing deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that funnels more than $200 million yearly into the state’s coffers, Gaetz said.
Gaetz, R-Niceville, spoke with the Tampa Tribune as part of a series of pre-session interviews with Capitol reporters. Lawmakers have been meeting in committees this month in preparation; the annual session begins March 4.
“He’s a great negotiator,” Gaetz said about Scott. “I think our job is to set the stage,” referring to a proposed bill in the works that could address destination casinos and a new state gaming commission.
“But when the Legislature would take up that proposal depends upon the governor,” Gaetz said. “If the governor, in his wisdom, says, ‘I think I want to hold off on this for a few months,’ … then I think naturally it would take a couple of sessions.”
With his latest comments, Gaetz joins his counterpart in the House – Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel – in laying the thorny question of what to do about gambling in Florida at the feet of the governor.
And Scott, who is up for re-election this year, so far has shown no desire to get involved any time soon, with his office repeatedly saying only that he “will take the time needed to negotiate the best arrangement for Florida.”
The Seminole Compact includes a provision allowing blackjack and other card games at locations including Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The card game component expires in mid-2015 unless it’s renewed.
The agreement guaranteed the state a minimum $1 billion from the tribe’s gambling income over five years.
But under certain scenarios, if the tribe loses its exclusive rights to offer Las Vegas-style games through expanded gambling, it can reduce payments or stop paying altogether.
The Senate’s Gaming committee, chaired by Naples Republican Garrett Richter, has held hearings across the state and is now drafting a proposed bill. That effort, reported to be more than 300 pages when finished, should be presented next month.
But Richter, also the Senate’s president pro tem, favors at least two destination casinos in South Florida. Gaetz opposes any new gambling.
“Garrett Richter is a dear friend, but I told him that at the end of the day I may have to vote against his bill,” Gaetz said. “I don’t believe that Florida ought to be addicted to gaming revenue.”
Gaetz also was asked to say the first thing on his mind when the following names were mentioned:
♦ Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist: “His idea of a moral compass is a wet finger in the wind.”
♦ Attorney General Pam Bondi: “Strong, respected, good friend. Never lies to me.”
♦ John Morgan, Florida attorney behind the medical marijuana initiative: “One of the best lawyers in America, with whom I have fundamental disagreements.”
♦ Former Florida House Speaker and current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio: “A good friend and a future president.”