By GARY FINEOUT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The powerful state senator trying to push through a dramatic expansion of gambling in Florida recently was working for the company that owns an iconic Miami Beach hotel interested in adding slot machines.
State Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and attorney, has acknowledged to The Associated Press that he did legal work for Turnberry Associates on a “commercial transaction” as recently as three years ago.
Turnberry Associates is a real-estate development company that owns the famed Fontainebleau Hotel. In the last several years, the hotel has showered top politicians in the state and the Republican Party with more than $2 million in campaign contributions, including money that went to a political committee controlled by Galvano. One of the lobbyists representing Turnberry is Michael Corcoran, the brother of current House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
Galvano last week released a major gambling bill that covers everything from legalizing fantasy sports to allowing the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer craps and roulette at its casinos. But the legislation, which will have its first legislative hearing next week, also would allow the addition of slot machines in Miami-Dade County.
Galvano earlier this month said he has no plans to work again for Turnberry and he insisted his past work for them was not influencing how he crafted the bill.
“The reality is whatever is in that bill … is going to be what I believe is the best path for the state of Florida, where I think the Senate wants to go based on the last several years,” Galvano said. “And my legal work has no impact on it.”
Galvano has become one of the most important legislators on gambling. While in the Florida House, he was instrumental in helping shape a 2010 deal with the Seminole Tribe that granted them the right to offer blackjack at most of their casinos and gave them a monopoly on slot machines outside of South Florida. The state has collected nearly $1.7 billion from the tribe as a result.
But the blackjack provision expired in 2015. And with dog and horse tracks also lobbying hard to expand, the Florida Legislature rejected a new larger deal negotiated by Gov. Rick Scott that would have also allowed the tribe to offer craps and roulette. Galvano was tapped by Senate President Joe Negron to take the lead on trying to push together a gambling overhaul for the 2017 session.
Galvano’s financial disclosures to the state show that his main source of income comes from his law firm and his legislative salary. Citing attorney-client privilege, he declined to go into detail about his work for Turnberry, although he said it had nothing to do with helping Turnberry seek a gambling license.
Julian Schnee, who works for a public relations agency that represents the Fontainebleau, declined to answer questions about Galvano’s hiring, the hotel’s campaign contributions or the hotel’s interest in acquiring slot machines.
Campaign finance records show that since 2010 the Fontainebleau has donated nearly $2.3 million in contributions, including more than $800,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. Political committees run by Galvano have received $90,000 in campaign contributions, while one controlled by Negron has received $75,000.