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Governor Charlie Crist Renegotiates With Seminole Tribe Regarding Gaming Agreement

On May 19th, 2009, Governor Charlie Crist of Florida will renegotiate again with the Seminole tribe to offer banked card games at its casino facilities but this time legislators would not take him to court. Both the Senate and House approved a bill (SB 788) on Friday, May 8th, 2009, that sets the deadline for a gaming compact with the Seminole tribe and allows Gov. Crist to hammer out the final details.

The decision comes a year and a half later after Crist signed a gaming compact with the tribe that is similar to the proposed agreement that the legislators approved. Under the new proposal, the Seminoles would be able to offer blackjack at the three casino facilities in Broward County and the Hard Rock casino in Tampa.

They would also be able to offer Class III slot machines at all 7 of their casino facilities which includes Immokalee, Brighton and Big Cypress. In exchange, Florida will get at least $150 million from the tribe-if it accepts the agreement. The proposal is not quite as good as the previous agreement signed by Governor Crist in November 2007. That agreement allowed blackjack at all seven casino facilities and the tribe would pay the state a minimum of $100 million annually.

The legislative officials at the time, House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt, went to the state Supreme Court to challenge the gaming compact. Under the first agreement, the tribe went ahead and set-up blackjack and slot machines, which are still running at its casinos. If the tribe agrees to the agreement and the federal government approves the deal, the cash will be used to help state schools.

The Seminoles said in a statement that they remain hopeful that they can work together with Governor Crist and the legislature to make a compact that they can all agree upon. Senate President Jeff Atwater, a Republican from North Palm Beach, said that Seminole tribe probably would not receive much better than what the new proposal offers.

Atwater added that this is an agreement that the Seminole tribe should seriously evaluate and bring closure to. If the Seminole tribe agrees to the new gaming compact, Atwater recommends a special session to ratify the agreement so that Florida can receive its money as soon as possible. Horse and dog racing tracks and jai-alai frontons also get something from the new proposal. Poker rooms at pari-mutuels can stay open longer for business and they can offer bigger pots.

South Florida pari-mutuels, where voters have already approved slot machines will have their tax rate on the slot machines cut from fifty percent to thirty-five percent. They will also be able to offer card games like blackjack if voters will approve. The compact can also lead to the reopening of the Hialeah Park. The racing track opened in 1925 and its last live horse race was held in 2001.

The owner of the park has a quarterhorse racing permit and Representative Esteban Bovo said that the bill will permit Hialeah to offer a poker room and eventually slot machines if the park owner prepares it for live horse racing.

The racing park would only have to hold twenty races the 1st year to acquire these privileges. Crist praised legislators for coming to an agreement on a proposed gaming compact. He added that he look forward to working with the Seminole tribe to make a new gaming compact that will ensure the success and future of Florida's educational system.


Tuesday, June 30 , 2009
Kim Watson