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The Compromises Between the Florida Legislature and the Seminole Tribe

The Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida is getting closer to achieving a new gaming deal with state officials that would allow it to keep banked card games like blackjack and Class III slot machines at its Hard Rock casino facilities in return for paying a total of $150 million in yearly payments to the state.

Attorneys for the Seminole tribe and Gov. Crist's office presented a proposed gaming compact to the state House and Senate on August 26th, 2009 in Tallahassee. Representative Bill Galvano and the Senate president's chief of staff, Bud Kneip, responded by explaining the clauses the legislators wanted changed. The Seminoles will present the options to its council for approval by the end of the week before the August 31st, 2009 deadline.

Seminole councilman Max Osceola said that they will seriously consider the options presented to them by the legislature. Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and the lead negotiator of the House, said that he thinks that the proposal is reasonable approach. But if the Seminoles comes back with a revised gaming plan that "deviates substantially from what they have approved", it may be time for the federal government to take over the gaming talks.

If Governor Charlie Crist does not negotiate a compact with the tribe by Monday, the legislators can ask the US Department of Interior to solve the issue. The tribe wants to keep their banked card games like blackjack, which were deemed a gaming expansion in Florida requiring the approval of the legislature.

Approval could come in a special session in October 2009. Aside from the deadline imposed by the state legislators, the pari-mutuel industry has increased the pressure on to get a gaming compact signed. Legislators gave horse and dog racing tracks and jai alai frontons in South Florida lower tax rates, unlimited poker and expanded gaming hours to improve their revenue-but those will only take effect if a gaming compact is approved.

On August 26th, 2009, it appeared that both the House and the Seminoles had agreed to some compromises. But the major sticking point-what to do with Seminole's yearly payments if Florida increases competition for gaming dollars by permitting casino games at other pari-mutuel establishments around the state-remained unresolved.

The gaming proposal that the Seminoles and Gov. Crist agreed to would permit the tribe to stop payments if Class III slot machines or card games are permitted at horse and dog racing tracks and jai alai frontons outside of the counties of Miami-Dade and Broward and reduce gaming payments by fifty percent if card games are permitted at casino facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade.

Galvano stated that state legislators agree that the Seminole should stop payments if gaming is expanded outside of South Florida but no if new casino games are allowed in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties or at pari-mutuels in North Florida. The legislators said that in those cases, the tribe should reduce its gaming payments on a sliding scale, if its earnings drop below $1.37 billion.

The provision to permit slot machines in Palm Beach County will help the Palm Beach Kennel Club, which is the district of Senate President Jeff Atwater. Galvano said that the Seminoles insisted that the pari-mutuels in Tampa, Florida not be permitted to expand gaming because the Seminole's Hard Rock Casino in west Hillsborough is a big gaming earner for them.

Under the proposal, the tribe would continue to offer Class III slot machines, blackjack and other card games at its Hard Rock gaming facilities in Hollywood and Tampa as well as its casinos in Coconut Creek, Brighton, Immokalee and Big Cypress.

Rep. Galvano said that the legislators could not permit card games at Brighton and Big Cypress but were willing to permit the tribe in Immokalee. The proposal permits for the Hialeah Park Race Track to be changed to a quarter-horse track and eventually offer thoroughbred races and slot machines. It also closes the hole that would permit the Miami International Airport to offer slot machines at its passenger terminals.


Monday, September 07 , 2009
Kim Watson