Without much news coverage or public outcry, the Seminole tribe has stopped making its monthly payments of a portion of its gaming profits to the state of Florida. Last year those payments totaled nearly $330 million dollars. To downplay the colossal failure of the legislature to renegotiate a deal with the Seminoles this session, the gambling money was not included in the state budget that Governor DeSantis recently signed.
Once again, the legislature failed the people of Florida. They will say negotiations are ongoing, but one has to wonder, why didn’t something get worked out before or during this year’s session? What could possibly be more important than keeping that gambling money flowing into the state’s coffers? Florida could have used that money next year to help fund public education above the starvation levels at which it is now funded. Florida could have used that money to make the new toll roads being proposed free instead of toll roads. Florida could have used that money in numerous other ways to improve the quality of life for its residents, but now it will all stay with the Seminole tribe.
This huge loss for Florida’s taxpayers was not something that happened overnight. Back in July 2017 the Seminole tribe made an agreement with then-Governor Scott to take “aggressive enforcement action” against pari-mutuels offering card games that it feels, and a district judge has ruled, violate the gaming compact between the tribe and the state. Here we are, nearly two years later, and those card games are still being played in pari-mutuel card rooms around the state, and no new agreement was made this legislative session. It is hard to fault the Seminoles for halting the payments. The gaming compact gave them exclusive rights to certain card games in exchange for a portion of the revenue going to the state of Florida.
Why didn’t the state hold up its end of the bargain? How hard could it be for the state to write the offending pari-mutuel owners cease-and-desist letters and shut them down if they did not comply? Why can’t our state legislators write a new agreement that would be beneficial for both parties when they have had two full sessions to work on one? Several news outlets reported that a new deal was being worked on this session, but nothing was completed before the deadline. Now Florida taxpayers will be paying for things that gamblers from all over the country and the world at the Seminole casinos had been paying for.
I guess the people of Florida are just so used to the legislature doing the wrong thing that it does not even create much of a reaction anymore. Each month, the state will be missing out on around $25 million dollars. Let’s see how many more months this will take, and how many millions of dollars our elected leaders will let you and I cover now that the Seminole payments have ended.
Eric lives in Suwannee County and is a public school educator. He is an independent contractor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.