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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist deal expands gambling in Florida



Florida has reached a 25-year deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that will expand the types of casino gambling allowed in the state, Gov. Charlie Crist announced this afternoon.

Under the deal, the tribe is allowed to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines and card games such as blackjack and baccarat at its seven casinos on tribal lands, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa. Blackjack and baccarat are not allowed now anywhere in Florida.

The agreement makes the state a partner with the tribe in an effort to keep casino gambling from spreading beyond the Indian reservations. The state forfeits revenue from tribal gambling if any expansion beyond tribal lands is allowed. That provision would undercut efforts by the state's parimutuel facilities to match the tribe's deal.

Crist, with tribal chairman Mitchell Cypress at his side, said it was a "very historic day" for Florida, culminating negotiations that began 16 years ago. Most notably, the agreement does not provide for legislative ratification of its terms.

Crist campaigned for governor last year on a platform that included opposition to expanded gambling. But he repeatedly cited the U.S. Department of the Interior's Thursday deadline and the feds' written threats to impose their own gambling rules, with no guarantee of profits to the state, if he didn't act. "That is a gamble I am not willing to take," Crist said.

Under the deal, the state gets at least $100-million the first year, $125-million the second year and at least $150-million the third. After the second year, the state would receive 10 percent to 25 percent of revenue based on a sliding scale.

Legislative approval is not required, the deal says. Legislators have said they want a say and have threatened to sue if they don't. But the deal says lawmakers don't have a role because it does not appropriate funds to a specific use and does not waive the state's sovereign immunity.

There is strong opposition from lawmakers, particularly members of the Florida House, who oppose any more gambling and those who fear of how full-blown tribal casinos will hurt existing dog and horse tracks.

But the governor's office is adamant that legislative approval is not necessary.

"The regulation of gaming on tribal lands is not within the jurisdiction of the Legislature," LeMieux said. It is Congress' responsibility, he said.

Added LeMieux: "This is not something the governor was eager to do. It was something he felt he had to do.''

-- Steve Bousquet and Steve Huettel, Times staff writers

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 11:27am]


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