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Seminoles, Crist sign gambling agreement

TALLAHASSEE — With hours to spare before the deadline, Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe quietly signed a gambling agreement Monday that will keep slot machines and blackjack games at the tribe’s South Florida casinos. In exchange, the tribe will make $150 million a year in payments to the state.

The deal was signed behind closed doors and without the pomp and fanfare that characterized a similar agreement signed by the governor and the tribe in November 2007.

That agreement was invalidated by the state’s high court because the legislature hadn’t authorized it.

Will this deal survive?

The legislature must sign off on the compact or the governor and tribe will be forced to return to the negotiating table. Crist is expected to call for a special session in October but, judging from the tribe’s rejection of the legislature’s conditions for the agreement, there is no guarantee the lawmakers will approve it.

“There are some concerns,” said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the House’s lead negotiator in the gambling negotiations. He said the legislation passed last session laid out how lawmakers wanted the governor to negotiate the gambling deal and several of those conditions were not met.

Among the “red flags” in the agreement which Galvano cited:

n The tribe will operate blackjack and other banked card games at all seven of its casinos, instead of the three in Broward and Tampa as lawmakers had wanted.

n The Department of Revenue would be the oversight agency, not an agency determined by lawmakers, such as the state’s Division of Parimutuel Wagering.

n The tribe would have exclusive operation of slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward should lawmakers allow horse and dog tracks outside of South Florida to operate video lottery terminals or Las Vegas-style slot machines.

Under the deal, which would amount to at least $6.8 billion over 20 years, the tribe would pay the state a minimum of $12.5 million a month for 30 months, or $375 million.

After that, the state would net $150 million or a percent of the tribe’s profits of between 12 percent and 25 percent up to $4 billion.

Last week, Galvano and Senate President Jeff Atwater suggested the tribe be allowed monopoly status only within 100 miles of its seven casinos. The tribe rejected that condition, said Eric Eikenberg, the governor’s chief of staff, who helped negotiate.