If the Seminole Tribe of Florida included millions of members — as opposed to its actual 3,200 or so members — Gov. Charlie Crist might well be a shoo-in for U.S. Senate.
Florida’s newly-independent governor — who last week abandoned his attempt to secure the Republican nomination in November’s Senate race and instead launched an unprecedented no-party bid — received a jubilant welcome from the tribe at a compact-signing ceremony held Wednesday at the Seminoles’ Hollywood reservation.
Tribal leaders told their members, who as U.S. citizens can vote this fall, to “remember November.”
Crist was instrumental in getting the compact through the Florida Legislature. The deal guarantees the Seminoles the right to table games such as blackjack in exchange for at least $1 billion in payments to the state over five years. For decades, the tribe had sought, without success, to strike some sort of revenue-sharing deal with the state.
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On top of blackjack, the compact also grants the Seminoles the exclusive right to Vegas-style slot machines outside of South Florida. There is also value in the tribe having its gaming rights explicitly laid out, as the legal boundaries of Seminole gaming have been the subject of at least nine lawsuits over the years.
Crist entered the event to a standing ovation, and attendees rose to their feet again when he actually spoke.
“What a happy day,” Crist told the crowd of several hundred, a mixture of tribal members, casino workers and elected officials. “This took a lot of patience.”
Tribal representatives made clear their gratitude that Crist never abandoned the compact talks — even as they dragged on over three years.
“When you’re a friend of Seminole, you’ll be a friend of Seminole for life,” tribal council member Max Osceola Jr. told Crist as the crowd listened.
Technically, Crist had already signed the landmark Seminole compact legislation last week, but that signing came with little fanfare. Wednesday’s more-festive event featured a ceremonial re-signing under the leaves of the tribe’s historically significant Council Oak.