The House of Representatives of the state of Florida proclaimed an impasse on October 21st, 2009 in gaming negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and petitioned the federal government to stop the casino games on the Seminole tribe's reservations.
After years of debates in the courts and the state Legislature, a clear deal between Florida and the Seminole tribe over its casino games seemed closer to reality this year. But as the two sides quarreled over money, the Seminole tribe has continued to offer its customers casino games like blackjack at its casino facilities while House Speaker Larry Cretul insisted the tribe lacked the power to do so.
Cretul wrote in a letter to George Skibine, the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), that the disadvantages to Florida in trying to negotiate a deal under the present circumstances are very clear. Cretul added in the letter that it would be ill-advised for Florida to enter into any agreement with the Seminole tribe until the tribe stops the casino games and abide by the rules.
A spokesperson for Skibine, Shawn Pensoneau, said that the commissioner received the letter from Cretul, which he considered as a "rare occurrence". Pensoneau said that the commissioner has not committed in any way how it might deal with the gaming issue in Florida. Skibine has the power to order a stoppage on the casino gaming activities but the whole process could take months and involve costly legal battles over the vaguely worded Indian Gambling Regulatory Act.
The issue could also end up before the United States Supreme Court. The Florida state Supreme Court decided last year that an initial gaming compact between Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe was not valid because the state Legislature did not signed off on permitting the Seminole tribe to offer blackjack, which remain not allowed under Florida gaming law.
The Seminole Tribe argues that before the Florida state Supreme Court could dismissed the compact, the gaming deal was published in the federal register in January 2008, a validation of the deal's legality.
Tribe spokesperson Gary Bitner said that the Florida Supreme Court only decided on the aspect of the governor's authority and did not address the status of the gaming deal under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Bitner said that since the federal approval of the tribe's gaming compact in 2007 has not been changed by any judicial decision, the deal remains in effect as a matter of federal gaming law. Bitner said that the Seminole tribe's gambling establishments continue to operate under the 2007 gaming compact.
Governor Crist said that he still held hope that a new agreement would be finalize. He said that he does not know that they have reached an impasse on the issue. At stake on the issue is at least $150 million in annual payments from the Seminole tribe to Florida to help pay for state education. Crist has often said that the money from Seminole gaming is a good option to help preserve schools in the state.
The House's budget head, Miami-Dade Republican David Rivera said that Florida faces a budget deficit of $2.6 billion in the budget year that would start July 1st, 2010. To protect K-12 spending at its present level, Florida would need an additional $516 million -triple the amount of the gambling money from the Seminole tribe.
Rivera said that the legislators believe that there are larger and more important considerations other than the gaming money and believe that the Seminole tribe is not paying enough. Former state Senator and gaming expert Steve Geller believes that Commissioner Skibine has no choice but to shutdown the Seminole gaming.
Sunday, November 08 , 2009