COLLIER COUNTY — As Tallahassee postpones discussion over a proposed gambling agreement with the Seminole Indian Tribe, a Collier County commissioner is asking that lawmakers ensure Immokalee gets a piece of the pie.
Jim Coletta, whose district includes the small farming community which is home to the Seminole Casino Immokalee, is lobbying area legislators to guard a provision that would push 3 percent of the tribe’s annual gaming revenues into a fund for local infrastructure near the casinos.
Some of the money, which would likely be shared by at least seven communities, could be used for expansion of State Roads 82 and Immokalee Road, two of the city’s major thoroughfares and roads that may become more heavily traveled if a compact is passed, Coletta said.
The Seminole Casino Immokalee is located on Immokalee Road.
A current compact proposal, now before the Legislature, includes the 3 percent provision. Coletta said he wants it to remain there, even as the deal-making gets heated.
“I just need everybody to be focused on this,” Coletta said in an interview. “The problem is it’s very local.”
The compact, meanwhile, is a complicated set of negotiations between state, tribe and federal authorities.
Originally intended as a trade between state and tribe -- the former receiving a share of gambling revenues in return for permission to offer games otherwise illegal in the state -- the deal has become contentious with time.
In October, House Speaker Larry Cretul asked federal regulators to halt Seminole gaming while negotiations are ongoing, an effort to place more pressure on the tribe. Several Seminole casinos subject to the negotiations are already offering the games.
State Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples), citing that action, said his biggest concern is that a deal merely gets done.
“To discuss the idea of parameters of the compact seems a little silly at this point,” he said.
Hudson favors the 3 percent provision, he said. But if it becomes a stumbling block in negotiations, he isn’t afraid to throw it out, he added. He noted that an expansion at the Immokalee casino, contingent on a compact, would employ 2,000 people in the area.
“I think that we’re in a very, very odd spot right now,” he said of negotiations.
State Rep. Tom Grady (R-Naples) whose district includes parts of Collier County, also stressed the importance of passing a compact quickly. Like some others, Grady fears actions by the federal government could undermine the deal and eliminate any revenue sharing Florida might receive.
In the current proposal, negotiated by Gov. Charlie Crist and the tribe, the bulk of revenue sharing -- a minimum $150 million a year -- will go into state education coffers.
“I think this is our last opportunity to participate and get a piece of the revenue,” Grady said. “Otherwise we won’t get a thing.”
Coletta, however, is convinced a deal will go through. If it devolves into last-minute horse-trading, he wants the infrastructure money protected.
“That’s my biggest fear,” he said. “I know they’re going to come to an agreement. I just don’t want in the rush to come to an agreement (that) they lose out on what we need for Immokalee,” he said.
He also wants legislators to define how the infrastructure fund money would be allocated to each community. The current proposal is vague on the issue.