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Seminoles May Not Approve New Gaming Agreement

The Seminole Indian tribe is not likely to approve a gaming compact under the terms set by the Florida Legislature, according to the tribe's attorney on June 12th, 2009, pointing out to compact provisions that could increase expenses and competition. This would put billions of dollars in financing for schools on the line at a time of severe budget deficits.

Seminole tribe lawyer Barry Richard said that the main sticking points are the increase in the yearly payments to Florida-to $150 million-and a provision with the tribe's exclusive right to feature blackjack outside of South Florida. Florida legislators, when they passed the gaming deal in May 2009, place in a room for future gaming expansion.

Either state voters or legislators can give racing tracks or other gaming facilities games similar to those feature Indian tribe casinos without affecting the state's gaming compact with the Seminole tribe. Even if new gaming competition comes up, the tribe would still need to make payment, although at a reduced rate.

Attorney Richard said that he believes that the tribe could not agree to such conditions and the US Department of Interior would not pass it. He also believes that the yearly minimum payment, an increase over the $100 million negotiated by the Seminoles and Governor Crist in 2007, also ignore the economics of such condition.

The fifteen year, $2.3 billion gaming agreement made by the legislators is already on the governor's desk, awaiting his signature. After Crist signs the new agreement, the Seminole tribe and the governor's office will have until August 31st, 2009 to craft a new compact under the parameters approved by the Legislature.

The Legislature will then hold a special session to approve the final language of the agreement. The bill would give the tribe to offer card games like blackjack at its Hard Rock resorts in Hollywood and in Tampa, as well as the tribe's two other casino facilities in Broward.

Three Seminole gaming facilities elsewhere in Florida would be limited to Class III slot machines. Reaching a gaming agreement not only has significant effects in education funding, but is atop Gov. Crist's list of accomplishments. George Lemieux, Gov. Crist's former chief of staff, who negotiated the original agreement, said that he believes that they will be able to come to an agreement that is acceptable to both sides since the Seminole tribe is very professional regarding these matters. But trying to suggest any changes on the compact on a Republican dominated legislature reluctant to allow any form of gaming could be disastrous.

The lead legislator in the gaming issue, Representative Bill Galvano, a Republican from Bradenton, said that changing the gaming agreement is not an option. Galvano said that the $150 million minimum is reasonable given how much the Seminoles expanded its gaming operations. Galvano added that rather than reopen talks about the gaming compact, he would push playing hardball if the tribe opposes the legislature's agreement.

The legislature will urge the federal government to enforce Florida's existing gaming laws, which bans card games like blackjack. The tribe already offers blackjack at several of its casinos under a legal condition. Richard said that there is another side to this issue which is if they don't work things out; the legislature would not receive anything at all.


Thursday, June 25 , 2009
Tim Arnell