Florida Lawmakers Leave $130 Million In Gambling Money On The Table

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Legislators in the state of Florida are patting themselves on the back for working to fix a budget deficit without having to raise taxes. What they are not admitting is how they left $130 million of possible revenue on the table while cutting funds going to education in the state.

The lawmakers in Florida called a special legislative session to deal with the shortcomings of the state budget. They vowed at the beginning of the session to not make tax hikes to cover the budget problems. They succeeded in that. It is their failure, however, to approve a Seminole Indian casino gambling compact that had Governor Charlie Crist annoyed.

“I’m a little disappointed in some things. I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to go ahead and convince the members of the House and Senate to do the Seminole compact, which would have helped to the tune of about $130 million more. I remain optimistic it’ll be done in March, but it should’ve been done now,” said Crist.

Instead, legislators chose to continue holding the state hostage for their own benefit. Still upset that the governor negotiated the compact without them in December of 2007, lawmakers are now trying to show the governor the amount of power they possess.

“We used every tool at our disposal except any tax increases. That was the commitment made at the beginning of the session…and we fulfilled that commtment,” said Rep. David Rivera, the House education Budget Chief.

One of the tools that was used while the gambling compact money was not, was a $480 million cut to school districts. The Florida Forever conservation program, which purchases endangered land in the state, will also be on a feeze for a year that will save the state $20 million.

“The Seminoles are more than willing to finalize their deal with the state, yet lawmakers again held people of the state hostage whlie punishing Governor Crist for his actions. It was irresponsible for these legislators to ignore the money that could have been gained while taking money away from our education system,’ said one teacher in Palm Beach who did not want to be identified.

The teacher’s point of view was echoed by many in the school systems on Monday after hearing about the legislators plan to bridge the budget gap.

The Seminole compact will now be put off until March, when it will most likely get done. In the meantime, blackjack, baccarat, and Las Vegas style slots continue at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida.

As the Palm Beach teacher put it, “The state loses out on revenue money between now and March from the Seminoles, and some teachers may lose their jobs because of it.”

Florida Legislators Will Not Back Seminole Gambling Expansion

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As has been reported here at CGW, Florida Governor Charlie Crist is close to getting a deal done with the Seminole Indians that would allow Vegas style slots, as well as Blackjack and Baccarat.

On Monday, however, that pending agreement was put in jeopardy as State House leaders claimed they would not ratify such an agreement.

Marco Rubio, the House Speaker, in a letter to Governor Crist said that his chamber would not support an agreement that would allow more than what is already offered in Broward County. In other words, table game expansion would not be supported.

Although the addition of these games would give a major boost to the states economy, Rubio had this to say,”Because of our opposition to the expansion of gambling, we believe that the pursuit of increased revenue for the state should be of secondary importance in Florida’s negotiations with the tribe.”

He went on to say in the letter, which was signed by Rubio and his top lieutenants,”For us, money is not and never will be the primary consideration. Rather, we believe the aim of the negotiations should be to agree to the bare minimum amount of gambling to which the Tribe is entitled to under law.”

The problem with Rubio’s thinking and statement, is that it does not seem well researched. The Seminole Indians are not asking for anything that is not already legal according to law. The new law in affect gives access to class three gambling licenses, that is what the Vegas style slots that Broward County allows, falls under.

The Seminoles are simply stating that if slots are legal under the class three license, then so too should Blackjack and Baccarat, both games that also fall under the class three gambling license.

Governor Crist has realized the problem for the state here if the Seminoles case goes to Federal Court, so he has decided to enter into negotiations with the tribe to get the state a portion of the profits.

Crist has said before that he would like to offer legislators a say on the compact, but he does not feel legally that he must have their approval, and he plans on having the compact ready by next week.

Florida Lawmakers Listen To Economist Take On Seminole Gambling

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All of the background work that Governor Charlie Crist did back in late 2007 when he signed a gaming compact with the Seminole Indian tribe is now being done again by legislators. On Friday, they had their chance to listen to a local economist talk about figures provided by the Seminole tribe.

The tribe has told lawmakers that approving the compact would mean $4.5 billion and 45,000 jobs in the state. Those figures are representative of the new construction that would come with the compact.

Economist Amy Baker, however, warned the legislators on Friday to look more closely at the numbers. She claimed that the figures were inflated and did not take into account several different factors.

Among those factors was that jobs created could come at the expense of already existing work. She warned that the people the Seminoles hire may come from other gambling establishments such as the pari-mutuel tracks.

Baker also alerted lawmakers of her opinion that the money the Seminoles made would not be taxed under state law, and that it is money that people could be spending at other places that are taxed.

The problem for the state regarding the gaming compact could get much more complicated in the coming weeks. The House has said they might submit a completely different proposal from the one that is currently being discussed.

The time frame for a new deal is key. Governor Crist has proposed a budget that already includes potential revenue from the Seminole tribe. If the compact discussions fall through, it could lead to an even tighter budget than the one that has already been proposed.

Florida House Files Lawsuit Against Governor For Seminole Gambling Compact

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Governor Charlie Crist of Florida knew there would be some legal opposition when he signed a compact with the Seminole Indians allowing them Vegas style slots, baccarat, and blackjack.

On Monday, that opposition came knocking, in the form of a lawsuit that was filed in the Supreme Court by the Florida House and Speaker Marco Rubio.

The lawsuit claims that the agreement that Crist made violates the Florida Constitution’s separation of power clause, and impedes on the law and policy making authority of the state Legislature.

Rubio wrote the following in a letter to House members, “By filing our petition directly in the Supreme Court, we have chosen the approach that will resolve this dispute as efficiently and definitively as possible.”

Rubio is opposed to gambling expansion in the state. Like most politicians, he has found a way to fight his battle legally, even though he insists this lawsuit has nothing to do with his stance on gambling.

“Although this litigation arises in the context of a debate over the expansion of gambling, the principles at stake are far larger than the single issue. This case is about protecting our system of checks and balances”, he further wrote in his letter.

To an outsider, it could easily be believed that this lawsuit had everything to do with his stance on gambling, and nothing to do with “protecting our system of checks and balances”, as he wrote.

The State Senate was reviewing the compact on Monday, and Senate President Ken Pruitt said he had not come to a decision on whether he and the Senate would file a similar lawsuit, according to his spokeswoman Kathy Mears.

Florida Governor Discusses State Lottery Privatization

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Florida Governor Charlie Christ, in his quest to fill a $1.1 billion dollar budget deficit, is considering the privatization of the state-managed lottery. The idea is turn over operation of the lottery to licensed private vendors in exchange for higher net revenues. In it’s current state, the Florida Lottery is a less-than-efficient operation, according to many lawmakers in Tallahassee. The cost of operating the lottery has become greater than the benefit.

The privatization of state-run lottery programs has never occurred in the United States. If the proposal is to happen, the State of Florida would turn over all operational management to a private company(s). In return, the government would receive a monthly check without the overhead of actually managing the program, or they could opt for an initial buyout plan and completely separate althogethor.

Lottery programs were created nationwide in the 80’s and 90’s as a way to generate revenue for the public school systems, and in some cases, for roads and highways. The Florida Lottery took in over $4 billion in total sales and only generated $1.2 billion for education in 2006.

The idea of privatization is not a new one, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger proposed a similar privatization plan with the failing California Lottery System. His plan was formally introduced back on May 11th at a conference in Sacramento.

Charlie Crist has also been negotiating with the Seminole Tribe on an agreement to allow blackjack, roulette, and baccarat at the tribe’s seven Florida casinos. The deal could produce between $50 million and $500 million anually in state revenues. The extra money is needed or the state could be forced to end many long-running social programs and eldery benefit deals.