Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Will Florida Be The Next East Coast Gambling Mecca?

By Ken Davison
Feather News

Some Florida lawmakers are expected to discuss their vision of turning Florida into the next gambling mecca if no deal is reached with the Seminole Indian Tribe in the coming weeks.

Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson is painting a picture for the Florida legislators that envisions a $3 billion casino resort, providing thousands of jobs and attracting a customer base of nationals and Latin Americans. It would have to be located in South Florida. Tampa Bay or Orlando, he said. And no further than 20 minutes from an international airport.

Adelson owns that casino of his vision but that is only an example of what one of up to seven mega-casino resorts built around the state could look like under a plan that Representative Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, is contemplating.

Alternatives to the Seminole gaming compact, such as mega-casinos, will be the topic of a House hearing, said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who heads the Select Committee on Indian Compact Review and who wants the federal government to shut down the blackjack games offered at some of the Seminole Indian casinos.

A Florida House panel voted unanimously about a week ago to reject the gaming compact negotiated last summer between Florida Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminole Indian Tribe. Without a compact, the Tribe can offer gambling games that are already legal in the state.

Slot machines were approved by voters for pari-mutuels in Broward County in 2005 and later in Miami-Dade County in 2008. Pari-mutuels are betting systems commonly used in horse racing, greyhound racing and jai alai where the the total paid out is based on the total amount bet less a percentage kept by the house.

The fifth South Florida pari-mutuel since 2006 to offer slot machines ,Calder Race Course & Casino in Broward County, opened last Friday with 1,200 machines.

Blackjack is not legal in Florida but the Seminoles began dealing blackjack at three of its casinos after a compact was reached with the governor.

The Seminoles claim that since some pari-mutuels are offering a computerized, virtual blackjack game, with a monitor that shows the image of a dealer tossing cards at the players seated around the monitor, then they should be allowed to offer live blackjack at their Indian casinos. The National Indian Gaming Commission is investigating the complaint and is expected to issue a decision.

Pari-mutuels have felt the burden of the state´s 50 percent tax but that could be reduced soon to 35 percent.

The Seminole Tribe in Florida opened its bingo hall in 1979 followed by casinos and, in 2006, the Tribe bought the Hard Rock hotel and restaurant chain.