In the most recent GOP debate, Jeb Bush stated that when he was governor of Florida several years ago, he shut down Donald Trump’s plans to bring casinos to that state. Trump stated that claim was, “totally false.” The current Republican presidential front-runner then went on to claim that if he had really wanted casinos in Florida, “I’d have gotten it.”
So who’s right?
The story begins in the mid-1990’s when representatives for Mr. Trump began to have discussions with Seminole tribal leaders in Florida. Those tribal leaders were anxious to get into the potentially lucrative casino business and they wanted the Trump corporation to manage the operation. By then Trump had already established himself as a leading hotel and resort owner in the Sunshine State.
Trump then hired a political consultant named Richard Fields who initiated a rather substantial public relations campaign in conjunction with the Seminole Indians that resulted in a 1997 statewide gambling petition in which the tribe was promising to share its gambling revenues with the state. Jeb Bush was already running for governor of Florida by that time, and was also linked to a no-gambling group in Florida called, No Casinos.
Allegedly at the urging of Mr. Fields, Trump hosted a half-million dollar fundraiser for Mr. Bush and then later donated another $50,000 to the state Republican Party. Jeb Bush assumed the governorship in 1999 and promptly re-affirmed his stance that there would be no casinos in Florida.
Following that decision, Donald Trump is said to have told his primary consultant on the issue, Mr. Fields, that he had no more interest in possibly managing casinos in Florida, but that Fields was welcome to continue trying on his own to continue working with the Seminole Tribe on the venture. An important component of this time period is that Trump was by then working feverishly to consolidate and then soon after, pull out his considerable interests in the Atlantic City casino business. It was a process that began by the mid- 1990’s and continued on for nearly another decade. Donald Trump did in fact, as he has often said, get out of Atlantic City when the getting was still good, and he made a considerable fortune having done so.
Richard Fields on the other hand continued to try and get gambling in Florida, an effort that did not include Donald Trump who during that time was expanding his Trump media and golf resort empire at an astounding (and even more profitable) pace. It was Fields and his partners within the Seminole Tribe who had the most clashes with the Jeb Bush administration in Florida, not Donald Trump though Trump most likely did observe Bush’s refusal to allow gambling from afar and think it a very poor economic decision for the state. The real estate mogul has publicly indicated from time to time since then that Florida is missing out on a great deal of revenue and jobs because of Bush’s decision. It should also be noted that Fields and the Seminole tribe were successful in getting approval for “Class II” casinos, and opened those gambling facilities on tribal land by 2004 when Jeb Bush was governor. There are now six such casinos operating throughout the state. This fact makes Bush’s claims he prevented casinos from coming to Florida that much more dubious. There was also a lawsuit filed by Donald Trump against his former consultant, Richard Fields, which alleged Fields was falsely claiming he represented Mr. Trump after their relationship had been terminated. That lawsuit was eventually settled via a purchase agreement between Trump and Fields in the amount of $316 million to Donald Trump involving the sale of an Atlantic City property.
So did Donald Trump personally try and introduce gambling in Florida? Not quite. He certainly appears to have had an initial albeit short-lived interest in doing so, dabbled with the idea, and then promptly terminated those efforts when the then newly elected Jeb Bush administration said it wasn’t going to allow any casinos in Florida. (Except of course for the Florida State Lottery, which the Bush administration both supported and expanded during his tenure as governor. It appears Jeb isn’t opposed to gambling per say, but rather only supports state-run gambling operations.)
It appears both men’s version of events share some semblance of truth, though Jeb Bush’s version does suffer a bit from the claims he “stopped” Donald Trump from bringing casinos to Florida. Then-governor Bush stopped the Seminole Indians from doing so, and their consultant, Richard Fields. Donald Trump by that time had already moved on to other business interests.
We’ll call this one a draw…