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Florida Gambling Situation With Seminoles Complicated

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Florida lawmakers are readying themselves for a special session to cut more than $1 billion from the state budget.

Senator Steve Geller, Democratic senate leader cautioned that without new money the state is facing deep cuts in critical programs such as health care, education and elderly services.

“We are not prepared to completely balance the budget of the state on the backs of the oldest and youngest, the sickest and poorest and the students,” he said about the Senate Democratic caucus. “We’re not going to do that.”

Some of the discussions will center around eliminating tax cuts that were put into effect when republican Jeb Bush was governor to increase state revenues.

Also as part of the budget will be the expansion of gambling within the state. Senate analysts say giving the Seminole Indians the gambling expansion to class III, which would allow table games, could generate between $50 and $500 million a year.

Republicans, which are strongly influenced by the religious right, see this as a troubling trend when the state looks for a permanent tax structure that includes proceeds from expanded gambling.

“The tide is changing in favor of the gambling interests in our state,” said Bill Stephens, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida. “I guess the question that is left out there for all of us to answer is how far down the road are we going to get with these guys before we say enough is enough.”

The U.S. Interior Department has given Florida little choice but to negotiate with the Seminole Indians, and the new deadline imposed by them to reach an agreement is September 11. If no agreement is reached between the state and the Seminoles, it is certain that the Seminoles will get the expanded gambling they seek without Florida benefiting from a tax base.

Governor Charlie Crist is negotiating with the Seminoles in the best interest of the state. Although Crist has publicly come out against expanded gambling, he has no choice in this matter. If he fails to reach a deal, the federal government steps in and Florida loses.

While Christian groups are calling on Crist to hold firm to his pre-election promises and accusing him of reneging on his campaign promises, they are not with a good understanding of the issue or its consequences if the state fails to act. They have put the governors office under attack by a ‘call to action’ program demanding that Gov. Crist cease all negotiations.

Florida now has 18 state regulated card rooms. In July the state relaxed rules on amounts of wagering, buy-ins, and No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em games. In addition to the change in limits, pari-mutuals that were limited to offering poker only on days they had live racing, the tracks may now operate the Poker rooms daily. This has given the tracks an increase of 50-60%. More professional poker players are enjoying the ease and availability, and increased limits at Florida’s pari-mutuals. Revenues from poker in the state is expected to generate $3 million extra as the state taxes this revenue at 10%.

Slots gambling in Broward County have brought in $18.5 million in the month of July to the county’s three racetracks, half that money goes to the state coffers to help public education.

Revenues at the Counties racetracks are not what was projected and fell short of Wall Streets expectations. Industry analysts say the racetrack casinos are struggling with the 50% tax and intense competition from three local casinos run by the Seminole Tribe of Indians.

The Palm Beach Kennel Club, which offers poker added 20 poker tables in July to accommodate demand, they claim to be able to host 600 poker players at one time, and it is the largest poker room on the East Coast outside of Atlantic City.

Governor Crist is acting as he should on behalf of all the people of Florida in his negotiations with the Seminoles. Unlike the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and other evangelical organizations, the governor sees the big picture and has the best interest of the state in his decisions, which is not like the former republican governor, Jeb Bush who was strongly led by those wishing to restrict freedoms and impose their way of life on us all.

Gambling in the State of Florida is here to stay. Florida should not only look to the Seminole Indians to find an equitable solution and gain revenue for the State, they should also take an innovative approach to Internet gambling and find a way to allow it, tax it, and benefit from it. We all know in our hearts and minds that Internet Gambling is here to stay, states should make the most of it.

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