Fla. Gov. Crist pitches new Indian gambling deal

Apr 28, 2009 7:10 PM
Staff & Wire Reports |

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe said Wednesday they hope $600 million in upfront money will get the Legislature to take a new look at a gambling deal that was signed in 2007 but considered void by lawmakers.

As part of the revised deal, the tribe would immediately give the state the money the first year and up to $500 million in the second. The state would get no money in the third year and only a small amount the fourth year. After that, the tribe would begin giving the state a percentage of its profits from the slot machines and card games the state will authorize.

“We skip one year of sharing with our friends the Seminoles and thereafter we share with them the next 25,” said Crist, who wants the money to be spent on education.

The deal is similar to the compact Crist signed in 2007, allowing the tribe to install slot machines and operate card games like blackjack and baccarat. The Supreme Court later ruled he wasn’t authorized to sign the compact, but the tribe has still operated the games.

After the first four years of the deal, the tribe would give the state 10 percent of its first $2 billion in profit from the new games and higher percentages of profits above that amount, up to 25 percent of profits above $4.5 billion.

“In native country, your wealth is measured by not what you accumulate, but what you share. So here’s a way for us to share for the future,” said Seminole Tribe council member Max Osceola Jr. “The treasure of all people are the children, so this money is going to go help to educate.”

But the lure of more money at the beginning of the compact may not win over some lawmakers.

“Our approach to the compact is not about filling a fiscal need. We are facing budget problems, but taking out a line of credit from the Seminoles is not a responsible way to balance our budget. It is not the best deal for Florida,” said Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who chairs the House committee that’s reviewing the compact.

“We’re going to keep focusing on doing what’s best for Florida long-term. Frontloading the payments is a short term solution that will lead to long-term problems for our state and its industries,” Galvano said.

Still, Crist urged lawmakers to consider the deal, and is providing them suggested bill language that would also help out horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons by letting them operate poker rooms 24 hours a day while increasing maximum bets and pot sizes.

“Do it for the children,” he said.

Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, praised the new deal, calling it a “a godsend” that could help break the stalemate between the House and Senate.

The Senate is proposing a compact that allows the tribe to operate full blown casinos, including games like roulette and craps that aren’t part of Crist’s deal. The House is proposing a compact that will allow slot machines, but not blackjack.

The Seminole Tribe would have to agree to any compact and the federal government would have to approve any deal between the tribe and state. To get money from the tribe, federal officials say the state would have to offer something that benefits the Seminoles, such as exclusive right to games not allowed in Florida, or to guarantee competition won’t be allowed in a certain geographic areas.

The House would guarantee slots wouldn’t be allowed outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where tracks and frontons can now install them.

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