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The Gaming Talks Between the Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida

The Seminole tribe's lawyer stated on June 20th, 2009 that the tribe is not likely to approve a gaming agreement under the new terms approved by the Florida legislature, pointing to provision that could increase expenses and gaming competition for the tribe.

Billions in funding for the state's education are on the cutting table at a time of severe budget deficits. Seminole attorney Barry Richard stated that the main sticking points in the new agreement are: increase in the yearly payment to Florida-to $150 million -and a provision regarding the Seminole tribe's exclusive right to feature banked card games and class III slot machines outside of South Florida.

Florida lawmakers, who passed the new gaming agreement in May 2009, placed a room for future gaming expansion. Voters or lawmakers can give racing tracks and other gambling establishments similar to the games offered at Seminole casinos without affecting Florida's agreement with the Seminole tribe. Even if new gambling competition popped up, the Seminole tribe would still be required to make yearly payments but at a reduced rate.

Barry Richard said that he firmly believes that the tribe could not live with those conditions and the Department of Interior would not approve the deal. He added that the yearly payment of $150 million, a $50 million increase over the $100 million negotiated by Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminole tribe in 2007, completely ignores economics from the whole set-up.

Richard stated that he hoped representatives from the Florida legislature, Gov. Crist's office and the Seminole tribe would sit down and discuss new gaming terms. The Seminole tribe and Governor Crist have until August 31st, 2009 to finalize a new compact under the conditions set by the Florida Legislature. The Legislature would then convene in a special meeting to approve the final language of the new compact.

The bill gives the Seminoles the opportunity to offer banked card games at two Hard Rock casino-resorts in Hollywood and Tampa, Florida, as well as two other gaming facilities in Broward. Three Seminoles casino facilities elsewhere in Florida would be limited to Class III slot machines.

Accomplishing a gaming agreement not only has vital financial effects for funding for education, but it is on the top of Gov. Crist's list of accomplishment as Florida Governor. Gov. Crist spent months persuading the legislature to approve banked card games like baccarat at Seminole gaming facilities, after his first agreement in 2007 was cancelled by the Florida Supreme Court.

George Lemieux, Gov. Crist's former chief of staff who negotiated the first agreement said that he believes that all sides will come into a resolution. He added that the Seminole tribe are very professional went it comes to these gaming compact talks. The Seminole tribe's spokesperson said that the tribe would not add to Atty. Richard's comment until the start of the negotiations with Governor Crist.

But trying to introduce changes on a legislature dominated by the Republicans that are reluctant to welcome gaming expansion is a politically charge minefield. The main negotiator of the legislature, Representative Bill Galvano (Republican-Bradenton) said that changing the gaming agreement is not an acceptable option.

He said that the $150 million minimum is reason, given how much the tribe has expanded its gaming operations. Rather than reopen the gaming talks, Galvano stated that would support a hardball position if the tribe protests the legislature's agreement: convincing the federal government to enforce Florida's current gaming laws, which ban banked card games like baccarat.

The Seminole tribe continues to offer card games at several casino facilities including the Hard Rock Casino. Galvano said that if they are talking about filling in details or making a policy change that is not going to be a big problem. But if the Seminole tribe expects that the legislature would make some major changes, he thinks that the more acceptable route would be just led the federal government enforce.


06 August 2009
News Submitted by:
Lauren Desmond

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