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Nancy Smith

Seminole Tribe Shouldn't Be Allowed to Lock Up Gambling Activities, Voters Say

April 10, 2014 - 6:00pm

Gambling options might be dead in the 2014 Legislature, but by a significant majority, Florida voters want more competition for Las Vegas-style gaming than just the Seminole Tribe's casinos.

Fifty-six percent of voters say they want other establishments to compete for licenses to offer the same gaming options, such as blackjack and poker, as the Seminole Tribe provides, according to a Voter Survey Service poll commissioned by Sunshine State News. Only 40 percent said the Indians' exclusive rights to Las Vegas-style gambling are good enough.

In fact, in all poll categories -- party, age breaks, racial background, gender, area breaks and vote history -- the only group that prefers keeping gambling as it is, with the Seminoles having exclusivity -- is voters in Northwest Florida and the Panhandle, by a margin of 45 percent to 50 percent.

(For a complete breakdown of votes on the gambling poll question, see the cross tabs in the attachment below.)

Gov. Rick Scott is currently in negotiations with the Seminoles on the tribe's contract with the state. The compact, as agreed until mid-2015, gives the Seminoles the exclusive rights to banked card games, including blackjack (but not craps or roulette), at five of its seven facilities. In return, the state gets $1 billion over five years.Scott hasn't given the Legislature a timeline for completing the deal, which also must be followed by federal approval.

"A 16-point difference shows a fairly strong support for gaming opportunity in Florida," said James Lee, president of Voter Survey Service. "To me, the most surprising result is that Republicans want to expand beyond tribal gaming by nearly 2:1. It's usually the Democrats who come out strong for gambling and the Republicans who try to block it."

Some 63 percent of Republicans polled favor more gambling competition; 35 percent do not. Of Democrats, 48 percent favor competition; 45 percent do not. Independent voters opted for more competition, 57 percent to 39 percent.

"That doesn't surprise me," said Capital City Consulting's Nick Iarossi, chief lobbyist this year for the Las Vegas Sands. "Republicans have no appetite for gambling done wrong. They're opposed to monopolies, which the Tribe is, and attracted to the 'best in class,' which integrated resorts are." Republicans, he said, are sold on the boost they would bring to the job market, tourism and the economy generally, particularly in local communities.

Last week Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, threw in the towel on a sweeping overhaul that would have permitted two Las Vegas-style casinos in South Florida, one each in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. And Wednesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told the News Service of Florida "the lights are out" on any gambling legislation this session.

Will big-name casino operators give up on Florida after pouring so much money into the effort and coming up empty? "They're very disappointed is all I can tell you," said Iarossi. "They had such high hopes after a $400,000 gaming study. And we thought things were going in the right direction.

"They're going to continue to watch, wait until the end of the year and make a determination about next year then."

Brian Ballard, lobbyist for Genting/Resorts World Miami LLC, isn't worried. "We've seen widespread support for integrated resorts everywhere in Florida we've polled, even in Northwest Florida," he said. "This is all coming, it's going to happen, we're prepared to wait and we don't blame anyone for the delay.

"Casino gambling in Florida is the will of the people," Ballard said. "If the Legislature fails to get it done -- and I don't think they'll fail -- sooner rather than later the issue will turn up as an amendment on the Florida ballot."

The VSS-SSN poll of 800 Florida voters was taken March 31-April 3 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.46 percent.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.

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