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Seminoles Review Legislature Gaming Compact

On May 11th, 2009, the Seminole tribe of Florida states that it is willing to talk with Governor Charlie Crist in good faith but it has some important questions about the gambling compact approved by the state. So many questions that the Seminoles might not accept the gaming compact as is. Jerry Straus, the Seminole tribe's lawyer in Washington, D.C., said that the tribe may have a hard time accepting the proposal.

If no final agreement is reached between the state and the tribe, the Seminoles could end up receiving the go signal from the federal government to have gaming that would include casino table games at all Seminole casinos in Florida and not have to pay the state any money. Straus said that there are two main questions: Why does the new gaming proposal call for the cancellation of casino table games at three casinos-including the Immokalee casino in Collier County and why must the Seminole tribe pay Florida an additional $50 million annually while its gaming revenue is being restricted?

The Florida legislature approved the proposed gaming compact on May 6th, 2009. The compact calls for the ending of banked card games like blackjack at the Brighton, Big Cypress and Immokalee casinos and increasing the Seminole tribe's minimum payment to Florida from $100 million to $150 million. Governor Crist has until Thursday to sign the compact and he hopes to begin negotiations by June 1st, 2009, according to Elric Eikenberg, a spokesperson for Governor Crist's office. He added that they hope to have a gaming compact negotiated before August 31st, 2009.

Senator Dennis Jones, a Republican from Seminole said that if and when the gaming compact is signed, the Legislature will likely convene for one-day special session to approve the compact. Back in 2007, Governor Crist negotiated a gaming compact with the tribe but the state Supreme Court dismissed it, stating that the Legislature must approve any gaming compact with the Seminole tribe. After the approval of the legislature, the gaming compact would go to the US Department of the Interior for a final decision.

The Department's deputy assistant secretary for policy and development, George Skibine, would make the final decision in the gaming compact. Skibine added that if there is an impasse, Florida's gaming compact could be bypassed altogether. The Seminole tribe can then request the Department of the Interior to step in and create special rules to regulate their gaming. Straus said that would take Florida out of the set-up and the state would not receive any gaming payment from the Seminoles. Sen. Jones, who sponsored the compact, said that $150 million that the state will receive will go to education programs.

The compact will also permit Class III slot machines at all 7 casinos of the Seminole tribe. Four of the casinos will also be able to offer card games. Immokalee would have to remove twenty-two blackjack tables and other card games. Straus said that the Immokalee casino is the most serious exclusion in the compact because it is the biggest of the three casino facilities, produces the most profit and is located in an area with a large population. Straus added that he do not see any valid reason for the exclusion because the state will be affected as well as the tribe because both sides will earn less profit.

Senator Jones said that his original gaming compact did permit card games at all 7 casinos. The final compact was a compromise with the lower House. Eikenberg said that the main premise in having the gaming compact was the chance to limit gaming expansion in Florida while permitting Seminole gambling to grow. He added that Seminole tribe hope to expand three casinos in Broward and one casino in Tampa Bay and the tribe provided plans on some of those gaming expansions. Straus said that he wants to test whether limiting the gaming expansion justifies the $150 million yearly payment to Florida.

Federal law states that the Seminole tribe does not have to pay the state to offer gaming-unless the tribe receives exclusive rights in return. In this case, Florida will give the tribe exclusive gaming rights to offer banked card games but only at some of its gaming facilities. Straus said that what the tribe has is partial exclusivity. He added that the tribe is looking at this development in a positive light but it is still an important question that they are studying.


Sunday, June 07 , 2009
Thomas Johnson