Governor Crist is facing a conundrum: Florida might lose $800 million in revenue next year, but he doesn’t want to raise taxes.
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a panel comprised of representatives from the governor’s office, the Department of Revenue and the state legislature informed Crist of the state’s possible $800 million loss. Instead of reacting with an increase to either property or sales tax rates as one might expect, Crist decided the best way to make up the lost money was increased commerce – most notably, expansion of gaming rights for the Seminole Tribe.
While negotiations have not begun, it’s possible the state won’t be able to avoid them. The Seminoles sued the U.S. Department of the Interior as well as its secretary in Miami on Tuesday, citing a need to install Las Vegas-style slot machines lest the tribe suffers “significant economic harm” due to competitive disadvantage, mostly from casinos in Broward county that already permit such machines. Despite the lawsuit, the Seminole Tribe does not intend to pick a protracted legal fight with the state. Seminole lawyer Barry Richards told the Sentinel, “They would prefer to be operating in cooperation with the state … they don’t want to have constant fights.”
But they also aren’t playing games. The tribe’s lawsuit stands on firm legal ground, citing federal law that mandates Indian tribes be allowed to operate any form of gambling permitted elsewhere in the state. Since the slot machines the tribe seeks to employ are permitted in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, it doesn’t seem the state would have any legal legs to stand on in response. The state has 180 days to work out a deal before a federal judge can become involved.
Luckily – though not very surprisingly, considering the tribe has essentially offered Crist “a deal he can’t refuse” – Crist is not opposed to the idea. He said slot machines for the Seminole casinos are “the smarter way to go.” It’s difficult to argue with Crist. Florida’s two alternatives – a futile court battle that will almost certainly be lost or a tax raise – are not effective solutions to raising the $800 million the state needs. The slot machines might be, however.
The 8,600 bingo-style slot machines and 230 poker tables the Seminoles currently run in Florida provided the state with $1.3 billion in revenue in 2005. That money helps Indian tribes as well as the state. Expanding the deal is, quite simply, a very good idea.