Seminoles hit snag in compact talks

Oct 25, 2005 3:19 AM

Gaming compact negotiations between the state of Florida and the Seminole tribe have stalled. Last year, voters in Broward County approved slot machines at pari-mutuels, but lawmakers can’t agree on the regulations and have failed to write them into law.

Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has been negotiating with the Seminoles for a Class III compact, which he has said he will honor, despite his original opposition to Class III machines.

Although Florida law does not require it, the Seminoles have said they’re willing to offer revenue sharing with the state. It appears the tribe could afford it — leaders are negotiating a buyout of Cordish Corp., the backer of the tribe’s two lucrative Hard Rock casinos.

Cordish receives 30 percent of profits, which could push the buy-out figure past $1 billion over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles are being audited by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC). Public hearings have revealed that tribal leaders spent millions of dollars on personal items, rather than sharing gaming profits equitably with tribal members, as required by law.

California denies
tribal land claims

The Schwarzenegger administration in California has weighed in on the Big Sandy Band of Mono Indians’ proposed casino site in Fresno County, saying the land is not Indian land.

The 40-acre parcel is the subject of a land claim dispute between the Big Sandy Band and the Table Mountain Rancheria. Both tribes claim ancestral ties.

Big Sandy, in partnership with Harrah’s, is looking to build a large casino complex, with more than 200 hotel rooms, 2,000 slots and a 2,500-seat amphitheater.

While county supervisors support the project, local opponents continue to fight the proposed casino, and the tribe needs to negotiate a compact with Schwarzenegger before the deal can be sealed.

Casino planned
for Detroit area

The Hannahville Indian Community in Northern Michigan has announced plans for a $243 million, 24-acre casino and hotel complex. The proposed casino site in Romulus is 25 miles west of Detroit, near the Detroit Metro Airport.

The Hannahville reservation lies 450 miles away, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The tribe is applying for land-into-trust status for the off-reservation site, a move that has seen opposition from the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, and requires approval from both the BIA and Governor Granholm.

The tribe is partnering on the project with Sweetwater Gaming Inc. and estimates the casino will bring in $300 million in annual revenue. Though residents and city officials of Romulus support the gaming effort, State Representative Mike Rogers (R) has said he will fight the proposal.

Gulf coast
stops and starts

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) is not helping her state’s gaming industry. Although some tribes operate casinos, she is refusing to negotiate a Class III compact with the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, which is trying to establish a reservation and use the land for a casino.

In effect, she’s struck down New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s hopes of building a casino district. Currently, Harrah’s Entertainment operates the one casino in New Orleans, and allowing more casinos in the city could help rebuild the economy.

"The governor didn’t much like the idea, so it is pretty much dead," Nagin said at a Congressional hearing,

The benefits of expanding the Gulf Coast gaming market are not lost on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R). Barbour has signed a law allowing onshore casinos, in hopes of rebuilding the state’s economy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. All of Mississippi’s floating casinos were destroyed by the August storm.

The new law allows casinos to be built up to 800 feet inland, setting the stage for big gaming companies to build Las Vegas-style resorts there. The state gaming commission hopes to turn the coast into a national tourist destination.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will be keeping an eye on the developments. The tribe owns a lucrative gaming operation and has opposed gaming expansion in the past.