The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Compact is signed but it's chock full of 'red flags'

31

August

Download Compact final 831   Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe on Monday signed a new gambling agreement to allow the tribe to keep its slot machines and black jack games at the tribe's Florida casinos in exchange for $150 million a year in payments to the state.

   The deal came down to the wire on the final day of the legislatively-imposed deadline as Crist and the tribe's chief officials signed the proposed 20-year compact behind close doors.

   The governor is expected to call a special session for October to ask legislator to sign off on the pact. But because it fails to meet many of the conditions sought by lawmakers to protect the state's parimutuel industry, it could be rejected and the governor would have to start over again.

   "There are some concerns," said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the House's lead negotiator in the gambling negotiations.


  Among the "red flags," he said, are the facts that the tribe will operate black jack and other banked card games at all seven of its casinos, instead of the three in Broward and Tampa as lawmakers had wanted. The agreement also gives the tribe exclusive operation of slot machines outside of Miami Dade and Broward. Lawmakers wanted to leave the door open to allowing for those games in horse and dog tracks 100 miles awy from the tribe's casinos.

   Crist said in a statement that he had negotiated the deal "in good faith'' and that will reap financial benefit to the state.

   "The revenue sharing between the Tribe and the State will enable the State of Florida to invest in the future of Florida’s children," he said. "I look forward to working with Chairman Bill Galvano and the Florida Legislature to ratify this important compact. “    The signed compact eliminates the possibility, however, that the tribe continues to operate its games illegally, therefore buying both the tribe and Crist time to find an accord that could meet legislative approval.

   Watching closely for the final agreement were the state's horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons which were given unlimited poker games and lower tax rates on slot machines if the gambling compact with the tribe is signed and ratified.

   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. That is lower than the original compact signed by Crist last year which would have guaranteed the state $500 million in the first three years.

   Last week, the governor and the tribe agreed to a plan to pay the state $150 million a year in exchange for operating the games at all seven of its casinos. But that went farther than the guidelines set out by the Legislature, which authorized the card games only at the tribe's Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa and its two other casinos in Broward.

   Galvano, in consultantion with Senate President Jeff Atwater, last week conceded to giving the tribe card games at its Immokalee casino but in turn wanted to allow for the prospect of casino games to be offered in Palm Beach County, Jacksonville and North Florida if legislators or voters approved them.

   The change was seen as a way to help Palm Beach County Kennel Club, which has long sought slot machines, seek a referendum for slot machines. Senate President Jeff Atwater, a Republican, is from North Palm Beach.   
   But the Seminole's tribal council rejected that provision and went back to its original plan.

   The tribe, however, agreed to a major concession that opens the door to allowing casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward get the same black jack games now offered at the tribe's Hard Rock casinos.

   Under the plan, if any of the seven existing casinos, including Hialeah race track, expand beyond slot machines to offer the banked card games now offered by the tribe, the tribe will reduce its revenue share to the state but only the portion from Broward County and only if its net win is below what it made the previous year.

   In that case, it will reduce the share of its payment to the state from its Broward facilites by 50 percent.

   The tribe, however, won a major concession from the governor too. Instead of relying on the state agency that currently regulates gambling -- the Department of Business and Professional Regulation -- the agency that will have oversight over its operations would be the Department of Revenue which has no experience with gambling oversight.

   Senate President Jeff Atwater said lawmakers are reviewing the proposal to determine what the next course of action will be.

   "This is a complex issue and I applaud the diligent effort put forth by the Governor's office and Seminole Tribe," he said in a statement.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 3:15pm]

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