The Real Deal Miami

Q & A with Sen. Dennis Jones

The Pinellas County Republican talks about the recent Seminole gaming compact and how it could impact proposals for South Florida casino resorts
By Alexander Britell | April 14, 2010 03:33PM

Last week, Governor Charlie Crist signed a compact with the Seminole Indian Tribe that would grant the tribe full exclusivity on the use of card games like Blackjack and Baccarat in its Florida casinos. The deal follows a pitch last month by the Las Vegas Sands Group for a destination casino resort in South Florida. Senator Dennis Jones, a Republican representing Pinellas County, was one of the architects of the accord, but said a five-year look-back provision means the deal does not threaten any potential casino resorts. Jones told The Real Deal about the compact and how some as-yet-unnamed European companies could make similar pitches for casino resorts.

What impact will the compact have on the Las Vegas Sands proposal?
On the proposal for the European or the Sands people, it really wouldn’t have any impact if they were going to decide to move forward. The compact is in place for 20 years on the slot machines, and the card games would be reviewed in five years.

Is the presence of these proposals responsible for the shorter, five-year time frame?
Not really. It’s more to be able to get an idea of what impact we can see on the 27 pari-mutuels racing facilities. Certainly we cannot have too much of an impact on the pari-mutuels. The horse industry alone is $5 billion a year to the state of Florida, and 26,000 jobs. It’s going to take a little bit of time to see how the pari-mutuels can market their business in the future, and how the Seminoles do.

So the monopoly is conditional? What does the language say if, for instance, a group builds a “destination casino?”
[The Seminoles] have exclusivity in the state of Florida for banked card games at five of their facilities. They can also have slot machines at all seven of their facilities. Should another facility outside of Miami-Dade and Broward decide to go into banked card games through a referendum approved by the legislature, that would break the compact and the compact would be null and void. Any proposal outside of Miami-Dade and Broward would not just take an act of a legislature but also a referendum, have a vote of the people in that particular county in Florida.

But what about in Miami-Dade or Broward?
You have eight facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward now. [At] those facilities [people] can play slots, they can play poker, they just cannot play banked card games. If a destination center came in, if we did carve one out for somewhere in Florida, and made a special exception of exclusivity for them, the compact would still stay in place until the first card was played [at a new casino]. Quite frankly, if you’re going to build a destination center like the [Las Vegas] Sands proposal or something else, it’s going to take you several years to build it. And quite frankly you’re not going to break the compact until you’re ready to open for business.

At that point the compact would be renegotiated?
At that point, we would just see if the Seminoles would want to renegotiate the contract, or if the compact would just be null and void. At the present time it’s in place for 20 years, with a five-year look-back.

What have you thought of the proposals you have seen?
The people in Las Vegas have made a proposal to the House committee. They have not made a proposal before my committee at this point. I assume they would either in the next couple of weeks or next year. Senator [Mike] Haridopolos has said he would like to see their proposal on the table, to get an idea of what kind of revenue it would produce for Florida in the future, and what kind of jobs it would produce. I’m sure it’ll be around in the future. We’re a state of 20 million people, and obviously we’re a gaming state

What about the European bidders?
The Seminoles are negotiating with some European people on Internet poker. Just like the group from Las Vegas, there are some groups in Europe that would also like to make a proposal should we look like we’re moving in that direction.