Associated Industries of Florida Opposes Gaming Compact
The state’s pari-mutuel industry, already united in opposing Gov. Charlie Crist’s gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe, is expected to gain an influential new ally next week – Associated Industries of Florida.
The business organization plans to announce Monday that it will fight Crist’s deal, siding with the 27 horse- and dog-tracks and jai-alai frontons who fear the plan doesn’t do enough for them but makes the tribe’s seven casinos virtual cash machines.
AIF will break from other leading business groups, the Florida Retail Federation and Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which had generally supported the Seminoles’ side when lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to forge a gambling deal during the spring Legislature.
“We’ve drawn the line on exclusivity,” said AIF President Barney Bishop, who said the business group plans to formally announce its opposition to the compact Monday. “You can’t let the Seminoles have something that the pari-mutuels can’t have. It basically screws an industry that has been vital to Florida since the 1920s.”
Pari-mutuels are looking to scuttle the compact because it gives the tribe sole authority to lucrative blackjack and slot machines outside Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Tracks and frontons would get a 15 percent reduction in the tax they pay the state, and facilities outside the two South Florida counties could offer no-limit poker and extended cardroom hours. But the industry argues that’s not enough to offset the advantage the deal gives the Seminoles.
The state’s quarter horse racing industry, which is still trying to establish itself in Florida, also weighed in Friday against the compact, saying the short-track competition and its adjacent card games would be eclipsed by Indian casinos.
AIF doesn’t make public its members, but they include most of the state’s largest corporations, including pari-mutuel interests. AIF has long supported giving tracks and frontons video lottery machines, which the industry has pushed almost annually.
AIF also has been helping spearhead efforts by the industry-allied Florida Energy Associates to authorize offshore oil-drilling in Florida.
While Crist has talked of including both the Seminole compact and offshore drilling in a special legislative session as early as next month, Senate President Jeff Atwater on Thursday urged a slower approach in letters to the governor and fellow senators.
Atwater, a candidate for chief financial officer, called prospects of an October session “unlikely,” on gambling. Instead, he sent Crist a list of questions about the compact that he wants the governor to answer by Oct. 9, the end of an already-scheduled week of committee hearings.
While Atwater didn’t rule out the likelihood of a gambling session in November, the Senate president suggested the oil-drilling measure may have to wait until next spring’s session. He said it was an issue “not well served by undue haste.”
“I don’t think that’s the last word,” Bishop said. “If we get it included in a special session that’d be great, if not, I think legislators will be ready to vote next spring in favor of giving the governor and Cabinet a chance to authorize oil-drilling.”