Scott, Seminoles try to sell gambling deal

- Gov. Rick Scott used a joint press conference Monday with the Seminole Tribe to pitch the economic impact of a proposed $3 billion gambling agreement now in the hands of the Legislature.

For Scott, the deal is all about jobs.

During an hour-long presentation by the Seminoles about expansion plans, the tribe's representatives said that more than 3,600 workers would lose their jobs if lawmakers don't sign off on the proposed gambling deal, known as a "compact."

Scott and the Seminoles struck the new deal after a 2010 agreement giving the tribe exclusive rights to operate banked card games, such as blackjack, expired last summer.

Under the agreement inked by Scott and tribal leader James Billie in December, the tribe would be able to keep the banked card games and add craps and roulette at its seven casinos. In exchange, the Seminoles agreed to pay Florida $3 billion over seven years in what would be the most lucrative tribal revenue-sharing agreement for any state in the nation. The tribe also pledged to spend $1.8 billion in capital costs to expand its current operations.

Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen told Scott on Monday that the new compact would create about 4,500 direct and indirect permanent jobs. In contrast, nearly 3,700 employees would be out of jobs if the Legislature fails to approve the deal, Allen said.

Allen said the tribe is working with legislative leaders, but warned that the success of the deal hinges on Scott, echoing remarks of Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley after a preliminary vetting of the compact two weeks ago.

"We are navigating, but we need your support with the House and the Senate," Allen said. "We need the support of the governor if we're going to move this."

Scott, who in the past has been criticized for failing to lobby the Legislature on his priorities, pointedly appealed to lawmakers during Monday's hour-long presentation during which the governor heard from several workers --- including a line cook who recently took over care of her deceased sister's five children --- fearful about losing their jobs.

Sounding as if he were on the campaign trail, Scott --- the self-proclaimed "jobs governor" who, in his run for office in 2010, pledged to create 700,000 new jobs in seven years --- spoke of growing up in a "family that didn't have work," a common theme in both of his gubernatorial bids.

"It's a tough time. I don't ever want to go back to that time for anybody in our state," Scott said.

Scott thanked the employees for sharing their stories and used guilt to appeal to lawmakers.

"That's what people want to hear. They want to hear how it impacts a person. That's what's great about our state. People in our state care about people. I think it's very important to tell people the impact of their decisions. Today it gave me more information, and hopefully we'll be able to share that with the Legislature," Scott said.

During the presentation, Scott repeatedly asked what would happen if the compact goes away.

"I ran on a jobs platform. So let's say the compact is not expanded or we don't have a new compact and 3,700 jobs are lost. How would that affect your business?" Scott asked one vendor.

The responses from tribal members, vendors and representatives of the tribe's 11,000 workers were the same: They'd be hurt.

"It would affect me immensely. Immensely," a tearful Patricia Rodriguez, a pit manager who said she's a single mother of three, told the governor.

Ron LaFalce, president of Maple Direct, told Scott his direct mail business is planning a $500,000 expansion, thanks largely to its work for the Seminoles.

"So if (the compact) wasn't approved, then you would have made a bad investment and you would have lost employees," Scott said, adding that approval of the deal "would help me get to more jobs."

Monday's press conference in Broward County included details of the Seminoles' planned expansion of their Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. The expansion includes a giant guitar-shaped hotel, submerged tiki huts and 5,000-square-foot villas with butler service and private pools.

The tribe is "trying to create something that's iconic," Allen said.

"Our business model is not just to prey on the local person who wants to go to a casino and has $20 or $30 in their pocket," he said.

Monday's press conference came as the Seminoles --- who've contributed nearly $3 million to political campaigns in Florida over the past three years, including $500,000 to Let's Get to Work, a political committee backing Scott --- step up their public-relations campaign regarding the compact.

The Seminoles recently released three statewide television ads promoting their casinos as "family-friendly" job creators.

Allen told the governor that the Seminoles are working to educate the House and Senate and public about the potential "ripple effect" of a new compact, or, conversely, the negative impact of doing away with the old one.

"We're trying to get that communication out there," Allen said. "It isn't just the excess of $248 million that the state will have in this year's budget. But it's also the ripple effect of all of those businesses that won't be spending. We would certainly hope we can forego that."
 

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