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Nancy Smith

Gambling Greased the Palms of a Whole Litter of Legislative Leaders

March 4, 2016 - 7:00am

For 14 months, from November 2014 through January 2016, casino interests plowed more than $3.2 million into political parties and the campaign war chests of leading Florida legislators, starting with Joe Negron, president designate of the Senate -- but including dozens of others. All in the hope they would get bills passed to expand gambling in Florida.

Recipients' names and monies paid into PACs and to political parties are part of the public record. Admittedly, the information isn't always an easy find, especially in the year before an election when new PACs sprout like mushrooms.

Stakes were high. Thirty-one gaming entities lavished cash on Florida legislators, most of them committee leaders or members of committees charged with deciding their fate. Here's the list of contributors, including the total they bestowed on lawmakers:

  • Fontainbleu Hilton Resort Hotel ......................$573,000.00
  • Seminole Tribe of Florida D/B/A Seminole Gaming ...... 391,000.00
  • Hartman & Tyner Inc. ................................. 372,500.00
  • Resorts World Miami, LLc ............................. 265,700.00
  • Sheldon G. Adelson ................................... 250,000.00
  • West Flagler Associates LTD .......................... 237,500.00
  • Palm Beach Kennel Club ............................... 198,067.28
  • Isle of Capri Casinos INC ............................ 151,242.50
  • Calder Race Course/A Churchill Downs Company ......... 121,000.00
  • Jacksonville Kennel Club ............................. 113,000.00
  • Delaware North Companies INC .......................... 95,500.00
  • Ocala Breeders Sales Co. INC .......................... 85,000.00
  • Florida Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Assoc. PAC ..... 78,000.00
  • Derby Lane St. Petersburg Kennel Club ................. 54,500.00
  • Melbourne Greyhound Park LLC .......................... 32,500.00
  • Draftkings INC ........................................ 30,000.00
  • Fanduel INC ........................................... 26,000.00
  • Gulfstream Park Racing Association INC ................ 26,000.00
  • Florida Greyhound Association INC ..................... 23,500.00
  • SSE Gaming LLC ........................................  6,576.00
  • Boyd Gaming Corp ......................................  5,000.00
  • Florida Standardbred Breeders & Owners Assoc ..........  4,000.00
  • Hazel Park Harness Raceway ............................  2,000.00
  • Daytona Beach Kennel Club and Poker Room ..............  2,000.00
  • Shoma Development LLC .................................  2,000,00
  • Washington County Kennel Club Inc .....................  1,000.00
  • Dania Entertainment Center LLC ........................  1,000.00
  • Coastal Florida Holdings LLC ..........................  1,000.00
  • Gaekwad Manisha .......................................  1,000.00
  • Sarasota Kennel Club ..................................  1,000.00
  • Casino Miami ..........................................    929.06

Negron, R-Stuart, is the biggest gaming profiteer among legislators. He's the money king. His leadership committees picked up more than $150,000, including $60,000 from the Fontainbleu Resort; $25,000 from Hartman & Tyner (Racing Corp. of West Virginia DBA Mardi Gras Casino); $10,000 from Delaware North (a Buffalo, NY-based casino food service company); $10,000 from Calder Race Cource (also known as Churchill Downs); $10,000 from Palm Beach Kennel Club; $5,000 from the Seminole Tribe of Florida; $5,000 from Boyd Gaming; $2,500 from West Flagler Associates; and $2,500 from Southwest Florida Enterprises Inc. (DBA Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker).

Sen. Rob Bradley, Regulated Industries chairman, got into the weeds early on the gaming bill. That was his job -- to be point guy in the Senate on gambling.  Tough days, tough nights but great rewards for the Fleming Island Republican. Virtually every casino interest scrambling for a piece of the Florida action drenched his leadership committee in gold: $30,000 from Hartman & Tyner; $25,000 from the Fontainbleu; $15,000 from West Flagler Associates; $7,000 from the Isle of Capri; $5,000 each from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Palm Beach Kennel Club, Resorts World, Delaware North, Ocala Breeders Sales and Florida Breeders and Thoroughbred Owners; $2,500 from Derby Lane St. Petersburg Kennel Club; and $1,000 each from Hazel Park Harness Raceway, Dania Entertainment Center and Coastal Florida Holdings.

But Negron strolled in and used his clout to rewrite Bradley's gaming bill. Negron's version made it more about giving casino and track owners what they wanted and where they wanted it, than about securing the Seminoles' $3.1 billion agreement over the next seven years.

Negron's Senate bill virtually mandates decoupling, but then the horse racing industry -- all except Thoroughbred breeders -- didn't pay enough to play anyway. A $4,000 bribe doesn't get you far in today's Florida Capitol. The Thoroughbred folks ponied up a little (pun intended), and in each gambling bill they were promised no immediate decoupling -- heck, even increased purse incentives. Not that their money bought special favors, that would be illegal ...

The deal struck by Gov. Rick Scott ($20,000 from Resorts World Miami; $10,000 from Hartman & Tyner DBA Isle of Capri Casinos; and $5,000 Delaware North Companies) , with Bradley on board, preserved the tribe’s right to offer blackjack and other house-banked card games at all of its casinos, two more than those covered under the previous compact that expired in July. It also granted two new slots licenses, one at Palm Beach Kennel Club, and another reserved for the still-unknown venue in Miami-Dade County.

But Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater ($10,000 from Calder Race Course; $10,000 from Palm Beach Kennel Club; $7,500 from Capri Casinos Inc.; SSE Gaming Inc., $6,576; $5,000 from Ocala Breeders Sales Co.; $2,500 from Jacksonville Kennel Club; and $1,200 from Resorts World Miami), said something interesting after Scott's deal was done and dusted. “That doesn’t make sense,” he said of the Scott deal, since voters from five other counties have already approved slot machines at local pari-mutuel sites, yet came up empty in the proposal.

Latvala is chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development. He also is a force on the Appropriations and Regulated Industries committees -- which makes him an important wheel to grease.

As House Regulatory Affairs chairman who sponsored the gaming legislation in the House, Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, got his share of the prize money. But in the end he was upstaged by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

Gaetz, who hopes he'll be headed to the Senate later in the year, gutted Diaz's original House bill, added casinos, decoupled everything in sight and left it to the Seminoles to fight their own battles with competition they don't want. Gaetz is House Finance and Tax Committee chair. He sits on the Regulatory Affairs Committee, too. And he has swagger to burn. Casinos probably should have cut him a bigger piece of the pie.  Here's what he received, mostly put into his Economic Freedom Foundation: $10,000 from Hartman & Tyner; $7,500 from Resorts World Miami; $5,000 each from the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Calder Race Course; $2,500 each from Florida Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners and Derby Lane St. Petersburg Kennel Club; and $1,000 each from Fontainbleu and Washington County Kennel Club.

Whether by design or over-confidence, Gaetz's bill is bold but probably doomed. He left the $3 billion Seminole Compact in the dust.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, Appropriations chair, picked up thousands himself in a handful of checks, notably $40,000 from Fontainbleu, a Miami destination resort wannabe that for now bet big and came away empty. Not so much for Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who sits on Appropriations, was instrumental in negotiating the first Seminole Compact with Gov. Charlie Crist, and probably knows more about the process side of Florida gaming than anyone else in the Legislature. Galvano got $25,000 from the Fontainbleu.

More surprising names you'll see on the greased-palms list are a pair of Democrats -- Rep. Jared Moskowitz and senator-shoo-in Lauren Book. 

Book hasn't been elected yet, but it's a mere formality. A sexual abuse victim who founded the hugely successful nonprofit Lauren’s Kids, 30-year-old Book began 2016 with about $1.2 million in on-hand cash across her campaign and committee. That would include the $10,000 from West Flagler Associates, the $2,500 Hartman & Tyner gave to her PAC, Leadership for Broward, plus another $2,000 check from H&T made out to her, $2,000 from Shoma Development LLC, and $1,000 from Derby Lane Kennel Club of St. Petersburg. Her father, top Florida lobbyist Ron Book, represents several gaming interests with which he was involved this session.

Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, called "the animal guy" by many of his colleagues in the House, has been leading the charge in favor of decoupling for the last five-or-so years. "With animal issues I get attention and support in a Republican Legislature," he says.

But Moskowitz's critics in Broward County -- for example veterinarian aide Sandy Blaylock -- call him "a sham." He's worried about a couple of dead greyhounds every year when the Broward animal shelter is killing tens of thousands of unwanted pets. And where is he? Where are the bills to help the people he represents?

Regardless, casinos and track owners looking to expand slots smile warmly on Jared Moskowitz. Even without a part to play in the gaming issue other than his vote in the House, he received $31,000 from Hartman & Tyner, $12,500 from West Flagler Associates, $3,000 from Ocala Breeders Sales Co. Inc., $2,500 from Isle of Capri Casinos, $2,000 from Resorts World Miami and $1,000 from Palm Beach Kennel Club.

Did any of the recipients turn the money back? I haven't found any evidence of that yet.

All this is legal, of course. As long as no one can prove you're selling your vote, as a legislator you're free to take donations and fatten your committee coffers for that run at higher office when the time comes. It's the way things work. But, boy, it sure looks and feels very bad. 

Remember, too, gambling is only one issue. At least a third of the bills that come before the Legislature involve issues where there's money to be made -- and thus, donations. Go ahead and call them bribes, because that's what they are.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

In reference to Joe Negron, you are a dishonest low life piece of shit, and that's putting it mildly. Do the people a favor that voted you into office. Step down and go find a honest job. If you are even capable of doing that.

Thank you for writing this story, Ms. Smith. Please stay on top of these elected officials. They are disgusting.

TRUMP 16 !

I luv greyhound racing in general & support the Florida tracks and others daily. Keep up the greyt work!

"Money makes the world go around, the world go around, the world go around." Mind you, I don't live in Florida but my dad and other family members do. I'm a bit shocked at the numbers here. That said, I do have rescued greys. And I personally believe it is time to pull the plug on that industry. As they used to say "pony up boys". If it cannot survive as a viable industry, which it claims to be, it should not be given life support forever. The dogs deserve better.

the dogs eat and live better than we do. I think you need to go try and save the world from climate change (warming up) oh yeah I forgot last few years frezzzzing cold good luck chump

so u exposed me we need a better way to seal from the people of florida via our casino operations so we give$$$$$$$ money to bradley,gaetz ,diaz and co.they need bigger cars and larger houses and with the money we will drain from the slot players giving these criminals (excuse me) legislators is just pocket change to us. tough to be the average florida citizen LOL.

I can't help but notice that Nancy has never mentioned the $5.5 million Adelson spent to defeat Amendment 2 last time. Of course I understand that Nancy, SSN and Republicans don't want Medical Cannabis, so many would applaude the result, even while they ignore that the money came from gambling, which we all know is not addictive or destructive. I find it hypocritical at best. As with anything goverment touches, follow the money. Even the current Medical Cannabis is infected with lawmakers holding out their hands and opening their wallets. Gambling is and has been big campaign contributions for lawmakers and they do love that Goose.

Dean, I thought you were a regular SSN reader. I've written at least half a dozen positive stories and editorials promoting medical marijuana. I can't speak for anyone else on our staff, but I am now and always have been a proponent of medical marijuana as relief in serious illnesses and conditions and especially as an end-of-life comfort -- the sooner, the better in Florida.

Ok Nancy, I stand corrected.... about you and I apologize, to you. SSN has done nothing positive about Medical Cannabis for some time and has been giving the anti-folks a billboard. The recent opinion by B.K.Madras is a sorry example of opinion being passed as facts. But then, I'm still a bit bent about Barney Bishop and his opinions too. Again, sorry.

There is already more than enough gambling in Florida. The campaign finance laws are now nothing more than legalized bribery. Shame on you legislators who purport to represent the citizens!!!

RIGHT! So how do we put a stop to this? Why isn't Rick Scott doing something about it?

Because he was crooked to being with. He was elected to a second term by just over 60,000 votes. People knew he was a crook but voted anyway. Gerrymandering, coupled with people not paying attention and voting in a complete, across-the-board supermajority legislature and total party dominance of the Cabinet is what leads to this, which is not even remotely the worst of Scott's evildoing. The crooks are running the store and it's very likely voters will keep on putting them there, after they get baffled again with the ruse of God and country as excuses during election season. etc. People slurp it up with a spoon and keep voting against their own best interests! I'm sure the 6,000 frail elderly people who died this year in Florida waiting for help because of Rick Scott's "cutbacks" this year wondered why, too . . . if they weren't so busy dying alone of starvation and sickness. Let's not even get into the children, the unwanted children yet to be born because of all the abortion restrictions going into effect, the murdered bears, the destruction and pollution of environment because they've pulled the wool over the average voter's eyes about what constitutes a "regulation" and a "tax break." Wake up folks . . it's not for you. It's for the corporations to come in and rape and pillage. Guess how Rick Scott wants to pay for the "record" education budget and billion-dollar corporate tax break this year? By raising your property taxes! At least our Senators have had the guts to call him out!

Follow the money, and you will always find the toucan sam.

Awesome article ...Congrats Ms Smith . This is why America is upset... the people vs the politicians. Big money tries to change the rules.

So why do they keep voting in the same crooks come election time? You know what they say about the definition of insanity!

Thank you for your hard work bringing to light the money this crooks receive from those who need to buy a vote.The government inFlorida is so corrupt it makes us so upset.Again thank you keep up the good work.We will remember these crooks when the next election comes.they may not know it but Horsemen and Horsewomen vote.

Great article that exposes our esteemed "lawmakers" as the prostitutes that they are. Any member of the legislature that would accept donations from the casino owners and operators and expand gaming in our state without voter approval (via referendum as occurred in the approval of slot machines in Broward and Miami-Dade at existing pari-mutuel facilities only) is NOT looking out for Florida's best interests. It's an election year. Let's vote these creeps out!!!!! Keep Florida free from stand alone casinos and keep out foreign corporation casino owners!

We saw the cream of our allegedly conservative crop get up this week and claim these bills and decoupling were NOT an expansion of gambling. They smugly insisted that predatory gambling, which ordinarily must be regulated for the safety of society, should instead be some sort of free market anarchy. With a straight face, they are claiming that fantasy sports isn't gambling. Now we know the source of their insistence. Can't wait to hear how they explain themselves today. Will anyone remember or care come election day? Or correlate that this animal farm that puts itself up as holier than thou screwed the State of Florida by making it a gambling cesspool?

I rarely agree with Ms. Smith ;however, she deserves kudos for plainly exposing this part of our Legislators' contaminated sausage-making process .The rancid grease used to oil the motor is easily disguised with more palatable artificial flavoring and rapidly covered with colorful packaging. Would that more journalists do likewise to expose the legislative techniques of purchasing and butchering prior to offering the wrapped product. Ms. Smith's investigative prowess provided Floridians with a discrete "Dept of Agriculture" report which disclosed the prevalent pathogens polluting the machinery and the industry. Thank you and well done, Ms. Smith !

TO: Pettifogging Politicians,.. Prove all y'all are "Statesmen"; OUTLAW PACs !...or "get in the circle" revolving around the drain ! We're "on to you" (and THAT's not a comfortable position to be in...)

VOTERS: it's up to you ! ONE TERM AND OUT ! (No matter who the candidate is..!) [The "system" needs REGULAR flushing...just like the worst toilet you've ever come across..] {"Lifetime appointments" are NOT what we are supposed to be voting for !}

Wow! Actual truthfulness from you is beyond words! Good article, Nancy!

This time I agree with you 100%

Awesome Ms Smith. Amendment 4 became law, Decoupling a nice word for Divorce. The bride was beautiful.... Horses' Greyhounds and Jai Alai.. Now they want a new girlfriend. She looks like a slot machine

Comments are now closed.

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