December 4, 2008 Publishing Good News since 1884 Volume 125 Number 43

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Illegal gambling in Florida, thanks to Gov. Crist


While the governor doesn’t seem to care about illegal gambling in our state, it seems the attorney general does. For that, Bill McCollum deserves the gratitude and support of Florida Baptists.

Although Gov. Charlie Crist continues to allow illegal gambling to occur at the Seminole Tribe’s Hollywood casino—in spite of an unanimous Florida Supreme Court ruling finding invalid his compact with the Seminoles—those of us concerned about expanded gambling in Florida should be comforted by the fact that it appears McCollum is determined to use his office to attempt to rectify this appalling situation.

I last wrote about the incredible fact that Crist continues to permit illegal gambling in our state in a Sept. 25 editorial, “Obey the law, Gov. Crist.” Now, some six weeks later—and more than four months after the Supreme Court’s ruling invalidating the Crist-Seminole compact–the illegal gambling continues without protest from our governor.

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In the now-invalid compact, the Seminoles agreed to pay the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the 25-year deal in exchange for Las Vegas-style slots (approved by voters for local referendums in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in a 2004 state constitutional amendment), exclusivity of those slots outside of Broward and Miami-Dade, and authorization for certain games—like black jack and baccarat—currently illegal in the state.

Thankfully, McCollum does not share his Florida Cabinet colleague’s laissez-faire attitude toward blatant lawbreaking in the Sunshine State, and seems unwavering in his efforts to end the wrongdoing. The contrast with Crist could not be more striking.

In September, McCollum wrote to Philip Hogen, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission—the federal body that has authority to regulate Indian gaming—urging him to issue a temporary order to stop the illegal gambling at the Seminole Tribe’s casino in Hollywood in light of the Florida Supreme Court’s July decision finding Crist had no authority to enter into the compact.

McCollum wrote on Sept. 19: “I find myself and the State of Florida in the untenable position of having a tribal gaming operation, which everyone acknowledges is unauthorized, ongoing without the jurisdiction to stop the illegal gaming activities.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which has jurisdiction in Indian gaming matters, approved Crist’s compact with the Seminoles, although, as McCollum noted in his letter to Hogen, the Department admitted, “[i]f the Governor of Florida is determined by the Florida Supreme Court not to have authority, the compact is not entered into and the publication does not authorize Class III gaming.”

In fact, even the Seminole Tribe itself admitted in court proceedings that if the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the compact with Crist the agreement would be void.

That the Florida Supreme Court has subsequently ruled precisely that has not prompted the NGIC to fulfill its duties and stop the illegal activity.

In response to McCollum’s Sept. 19 letter, NGIC Acting General Counsel Penny Coleman suggested the Florida high court’s action did not direct any specific action and did not explicitly declare invalid the Crist-Seminole compact, and asked McCollum for his thoughts on these matters.

In a three-page response sent Oct. 14, McCollum convincingly rebuts Coleman’s assertions, making the case that the Florida Supreme Court’s action was decisive and it’s time for the NGIC to act.

“The Tribe has brazenly continued its illegal class III gaming based on its belief that there will be no meaningful federal enforcement actions,” McCollum wrote, citing a newspaper report that the Seminoles may expand its illegal gambling to its other casinos in the state.

Seemingly in response to that concern, the Seminoles announced one day after McCollum’s letter was released it was temporarily putting on hold its plans to add the illegal games at its Hard Rock Casino in Tampa.

“There’s no date or decision yet. It’s still subject to what happens politically and legally,” Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner told St. Petersburg Times.

In the same article, Gov. Crist’s attorney said in light of the Supreme Court’s decision it’s now the responsibility of the Legislature to fix the problem. This could not be more ridiculous. It was the governor who negotiated with the Seminoles without input of the Legislature and without seeking the Legislature’s approval of his compact, contrary to earlier promises that he would.

With shrinking revenues flowing to Tallahassee prompted by a slowing or recessing economy, you can bet—pun intended—the pressure to expand gambling as a means of balancing the budget will be greater than ever. Fortunately, incoming House Speaker Ray Sansom, who issued a statement in September in support of McCollum’s request of the NGIC, rejects the idea of balancing the state budget “on the weaknesses of people” who gamble.

Even with Sansom’s opposition, however, expanded gambling will likely be one of the favorite “solutions” sought among politicians who are loath to raise taxes or cut government spending. The case against gambling expansion as a solution to budgetary deficits was convincingly made by former Gov. Jeb Bush and out-going House Speaker Marco Rubio in an April 3 Florida Baptist Witness special report, “Gambling with Florida.”

Apart from the unwise and immoral notion that the government should rely upon making its citizens losers in order to pay the state bills, gambling revenue never delivers on its promise of riches—either for the gambler or the government relying upon those revenues.

Further, whether or not the Legislature should expand gambling in our state—and it should not—does not relieve our governor from doing his duty to obey and enforce the law. It’s simply outrageous that Crist has done nothing to stop the illegal gambling at the Seminole casino—especially since he was once attorney general of Florida.

In light of the governor’s inaction, I’m grateful that Attorney General McCollum has not ignored this indefensible situation. McCollum deserves the support and praise of Florida Baptists and all Floridians concerned about illegal gambling in our state.