Scrambling for gambling

As talks between key lawmakers and the Seminoles heat up, the anti-gambling group behind a constitutional amendment going on this fall’s ballot is taking to the air waves to scold the Legislature for trying to beat voters to the punch.

Voters In Charge, the political committee that pushed the “Voter Control of Gambling Amendment,” is running a 30-second TV ad and a 60-second radio ad — in additional to digital and social media advertising — starting today, according to a release issued by the group this morning.

If approved, voters statewide would have to approve any expansion of gambling, something now largely controlled by the Legislature. A recent poll showed 76 percent support for the measure, which will appear as Amendment 3 on the November ballot and was largely bankrolled by a Disney company and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Anticipating passage of the proposal, legislators are scurrying to craft a new 20-year agreement with the Seminoles, prompting the attack from Voters in Charge.

“They’re trying desperately to expand gambling now, before voters have their say,” a female voiceover on the TV ad scolds.

Sen. Bill Galvano and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva met with Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, and the tribe’s lobbyist Will McKinley, yesterday. Galvano told Truth or Dara he expects the Seminoles to give the legislative leaders a draft compact this week.

“The reaction by gambling lobbyists and Tallahassee politicians shows exactly why we need Amendment 3,” Sowinski said in the release announcing the ads.


Louisiana riverboats could set up slots onshore

Florida’s “cruises to nowhere” have been a sore spot for pari-mutuel operators, and the Seminole Tribe, whose gambling efforts are landlocked while the ships are able to offer casino-style gambling once they get a few miles offshore.

In contrast, Louisiana lawmakers may consider doing the opposite — allowing riverboats to set up shop on dry land, to make them more competitive with neighboring casinos in Mississippi and get the cash flowing.

This from the Times-Picayune:

“The chairman of a gaming task force said Thursday (Jan. 25) it would recommend that the Louisiana Legislature allow riverboats to place slot machines on land up to 1,200 feet from the shore to generate more revenue and compete with casinos in Mississippi.”

Read the full story here.

Hunkering down at the Hard Rock during Irma

The rest of the state may have come to a screeching halt as Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc throughout Florida earlier this week.

But the slots didn’t stop spinning at the Seminole Tribe of Florida‘s Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, both areas that were affected by the historic storm.

The hotels at the casinos also provided a haven for storm workers, according to Seminoles spokesman Gary Bitner.

“Both Hard Rocks stayed open during the storm with limited service options and mostly for hotel guests. Both hotels hosted a large number of emergency responders,” Bitner said in an email.

Tribal leaders took out full-page ads  in several Florida newspapers on Thursday to express their appreciation for the 600 employees who worked throughout the storm.

“We salute our Seminole Gaming employee team members, our vendor partners and contractors who worked tirelessly through Hurricane Irma,” the ad reads. “They exemplify the unconquered survivor spirit of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.”


Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 1.16.01 PM

While Irma packed a powerful punch, the damage at the casinos was mostly limited to landscaping, according to Bitner.

Nevada gambling regulators ponder pot

budWith the advent of recreational marijuana in Nevada, at least one of the state’s gambling regulators wants weed to be included in “responsible gaming” policy.

According to a report by CDC Gaming Report’s Aaron Stanley, Nevada Gaming Control Board member Terry Johnson expressed concern about adding the impacts of marijuana to those of alcohol or problem gambling in the state’s regulations governing responsible gaming.

“We have existing regulations that talk about impairment from alcohol and gambling, but the statutes and regulations are silent on… what happens when the persons might be impaired from marijuana intoxication and continue to gamble,” Johnson, who has served on the NGCB since 2012, said, after explaining that an operator had been recently fined for allowing a patron to continue to gamble while visibly intoxicated from alcohol.

Johnson spoke yesterday at a University of Nevada-Las Vegas event hosted by the American Gaming Association.

Florida, which legalized medical marijuana last year, doesn’t have any gambling regs on the books specifically dealing with pot, either.

Nevada regulators concerns may be heightened by what could be the nation’s first marijuana mega-store opening soon near downtown Las Vegas.

Click here for more on that.

Doggone it: Regulators rile gambling competitors

Florida gambling regulators this week gave a Miami track permission to do away with dog races but to keep more lucrative slots and card games.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation allowed Magic City, in Miami, to ditch the dog races in exchange for operating jai alai matches.

The decision was rooted in a 1980 law that allows Miami-Dade and Broward pari-mutuels that have the lowest betting handle for two consecutive years to convert to summer jai alai permits. But if those pari-mutuels do not seek conversion, other facilities can seek the permits.

Owners of Mardi Gras, a rival dog track of nearby Magic City, sought to intervene in the case. But the state agency rejected those efforts in the declaratory statement issued Wednesday.

In an early-morning interview Friday, Dan Adkins — vice president of Hartman and Tyner, which owns Mardi Gras — told The News Service the agency’s decision wasn’t what lawmakers intended when they passed the law decades ago.

But Adkins said he wasn’t sure if he’ll appeal the decision.

“We probably won’t. I’m getting tired of playing by the rules. Everybody else gets away with breaking the rules, gets away with going around scamming the system. That’s what this is. So maybe I’m going to have to find my own way to game the system,” Adkins, repeatedly saying he did not blame lawyer John Lockwood, who represents West Flagler Associates, or his Magic City competitor for trying to push the envelope.

Even so, Adkins maintained, “this is not the way this regulated industry should operate, especially when people are gambling on it.”


“Flag-drop” races under scrutiny, again

It’s clear gambling regulators weren’t keen on a horse race between two aging nags on a dirt path, with the race launched by a red rag on a stick.

But what’s less clear is whether the regulators had the authority to punish a tiny North Florida horse track that ran the race.

The controversial “flag drop” race three years ago at Hamilton Downs between two horses owned by the same woman was the focus of a hearing Tuesday before a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Read the story here.


Sunshine State boosts Moody’s bond rating for Seminoles

Moody’s has upgraded the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s bond ratings, thanks in part to improvements at its two Florida casinos and also to the tribe’s continued payments to the state for banked card games, including blackjack.

Guitar-Marquee-672x372The Seminoles have continued to make the payments even after a federal judge ruled last year that the state had breached a provision in a 2010 agreement that gave the tribe “exclusive” rights to offer the card games. State gambling regulators breached the exclusivity provision in the agreement, called a “compact,” by allowing pari-mutuel operators to conduct controversial “designated player” games, also known as “banked player” games.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled last fall that the tribe is entitled to continue running the games for the remainder of the 20-year compact. The provision allowing the banked card games expired in 2015, but the compact included language permitting the tribe to continue to operate the games if the Seminoles lost exclusivity.

Last week, Moody’s Investor Services upgraded the tribe’s existing term debt and bonds to Baa2 from Baa3, and its Special Obligation Bonds to Baa3 from Ba1.

The upgrade was based in part on the Seminoles’ investments in the tribe’s two biggest casinos — both in Florida — and its continued payments to the state, according to a press release issued by Moody’s Thursday.

“The one-notch upgrade of the Tribe’s ratings reflect Moody’s expectation of continued exceptionally strong credit metrics along with further and substantial investment in the Tribe’s two largest casinos that will help the Tribe maintain its dominant market position over the long-term,” Keith Foley, a Senior Vice President at Moody’s, said in a press release Thursday. “Even with the significant planned capital investment, the Tribe will be able to maintain very low leverage, at less than 2.0 times,” added Foley.

The tribe’s two “largest casinos” are the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, in Broward County, and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa, on the other side of the state.

The revamped bond rating also takes into consideration the tribe’s continued payments to the state — in excess of $150 million — for the card games, according to the press release.

“The upgrade also considers Moody’s favorable view of the Tribe’s decision to continue to make revenue payments to the State of Florida despite a ruling in the Tribe’s favor that entitles the Tribe under the existing compact, which expires in 2030, to withhold revenue share payments. The ruling is related to the State’s decision to allow others (other than another Indian tribe) to conduct banked card games. As a result of that lack of exclusivity, the Tribe is entitled under the existing compact to conduct banked card games at all of its 7 casinos through 2030 without having to share revenue with the State. Despite the ruling, the Tribe continues to make revenue payments to the State and has not offered banked card games beyond the original 5 facilities allowed by the compact,” the June 15 release reads.

The tribe was unable to strike a new deal with lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott during the regular session that ended in May. Scott and tribal leaders inked an agreement late in 2015, but the Legislature failed to give it the requisite approval.

Fitch Ratings also affirmed the Seminoles BBB rating last week.

The Seminoles’ “gaming division continues to experience steady, positive operating trends compared to more flat growth seen in other U.S. gaming markets,” Fitch noted in Thursday’s statement.

The Tribe and Seminole Gaming hailed the financial market news.

“The ratings upgrades, affirmations and strong new ratings are great news for the Seminole Tribe of Florida as we look toward a solid, stable future for the Tribe,” Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said in a statement. “It means our Tribal members, employees, customers, vendor partners and community residents can count on many good years ahead.”

Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen said, “These improved and renewed investment-grade ratings will save millions of dollars by helping to keep borrowing costs low. They will help Seminole Gaming to continue as one of the world’s most profitable gaming enterprises.”