State Politics

Gaming talks continue as Monday deadline looms

MANATEE — Negotiators are sprinting toward a Monday deadline in an effort to reach agreement on terms of a gaming pact passed last spring by the Florida Legislature.

An agreement could potentially produce hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually for the state.

“There’s a deadline of Aug. 31 under legislation we passed for the (Seminole Indian) tribe and governor to reach a deal, they’re working hard toward that end,” said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who chairs the Florida House of Representatives’ committee overseeing gaming legislation.

Lawyers for the tribe and the governor’s office presented a proposed compact to House and Senate negotiators Wednesday.

Under terms of the compact OK’d by legislators last spring, the tribe’s Hard Rock casinos would keep their slot machines and Class III card games.

The state’s pari-mutuel businesses, such as the Sarasota Kennel Club, would bear a lower tax burden, and the possibility of bingo-style slot machines might materialize for race tracks around the state.

The plan would bring the state a minimum of $150 million in annual revenue sharing from the Seminole Tribe, and allow the state to use another $150 million set aside by the tribe this year when its previous gambling agreement with the governor was voided in court.

Galvano said he has been in Tallahassee this week to help as the negotiations progress.

“It’s not easy to get a deal worked out, but I feel confident we’re making progress,” he said. “I am optimistic a compact will be entered into between the tribe and the governor,” he said.

A spokesman for the governor’s office confirmed Wednesday that talks are continuing, but said that no formal accord had been reached.

“We may have more to talk about at the end of the week,” said the spokesman, Sterling Ivey.

Galvano said if the tribe comes back with a revised plan that “deviates significantly from where we intended to go as a Legislature,” it may be time for the federal government to take over the talks.

Lawmakers next week would ask the U.S. Department of Interior to step in.

In the eventuality of no agreement, the compact’s terms would be nullified, officials said.

Gary Bitman, a spokesman for the tribe, wrote via e-mail Wednesday that there was “nothing new to discuss, really,” adding, “I wouldn’t expect much from them until Friday, or, more likely, Monday.”

Crist is attempting to re-negotiate the voided pact he reached in 2007 with the tribe under the new legislative guidelines. Lawmakers must then approve the new deal.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908. The Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.