Seminoles up the ante for Vegas-style games

September 11, 2007 4:18 AM
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The Seminole Tribe of Florida has offered the state $50 million up front and at least $100 million a year in exchange for the right to have Las Vegas-style slot machines, blackjack and baccarat, the tribes’ attorneys said last week.

Under the proposal, the state would receive a percentage of the seven tribal casinos’ revenue with the Seminoles guaranteeing a minimum annual payment of $100 million. The tribe, though, projects the state would receive considerably more than $100 million, said Barry Richard, an attorney for the Seminoles.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s office and the tribe have spent the past four months negotiating a compact agreement over the Seminoles’ gambling rights.

The U.S. Department of Interior has warned Crist that if the state can’t reach an agreement with the tribe, the federal government could step in and allow the tribe to have traditional slot machines anyway. If that happened, the state would receive no cut of the gambling revenue or have any regulatory oversight.

George LeMieux, Crist’s chief of staff, declined to reveal the dollar amounts discussed, saying he didn’t want to compromise negotiations. He said he hopes to have an agreement in place within the next two weeks.

Crist has indicated that once he has negotiated a deal with the Seminoles, he will ask the Legislature to ratify it. When it would go before the Legislature is unclear, but the slumping economy has the state looking for an infusion of money. Lawmakers are trying to figure out a way to slice $1.1 billion away from the state’s $71 billion budget.

The addition of Las Vegas-style slot machines and some table games would make the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood more of a destination resort and could fuel expansion at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek. The tribe has averaged an annual profit of more than $500 million from its gambling operations statewide since opening its Hard Rock complexes near Hollywood and Tampa, according to court records.

The tribe has argued that it is entitled under Florida law to the same forms of gambling allowed by the state. The Seminole Tribe’s casinos currently feature Class 2 or bingo-style slot machines, where players compete against each other. Those machines are considered less desirable than traditional Class 3 slots, which are individually programmed for payouts.

Even though three Broward pari-mutuels now have the Las Vegas-style slots, gambling analysts say the tribe continues to dominate the South Florida gambling market.