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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Governor starts gambling talks with the tribe

Hard rock casino Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe of Florida began negotiating a new gambling compact today that would bring new revenue to the state in exchange for the tribe's right to a monopoly on some of its casino games.

 Lawyers for the governor and the tribe met Wednesday morning in Tallahassee to set schedules and review the issues to be discussed, said George LeMieux, a Tallahassee lawyer and Crist's former chief of staff who will be a part of the governor's negotiating team. They will resume discussions again in mid-July with a goal of completing the talks by Aug. 31, he said.

The governor must re-negotiate the agreement he signed in 2007 with the Seminole Tribe of Florida because it invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court a year ago. Since then, the Florida Legislature passed legislation that lays out the framework for what Crist should seek in his talks with the tribe.

Under those guidelines, the state would give the Seminoles the exclusive right to operate slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties and the exclusive right to banked card games -- black jack, baccarat and chemin de fer -- in Broward and Hillsborough counties. In return, the tribe would be expected to pay the state $150 million a year.

Barry Richard, one of the tribe's lead lawyers, has said the dollar amount is too high and the legislative conditions are a non-starter because they would require the tribe to continue paying -- but a at a lesser rate --if lawmakers give casino games to other parimutuels in the future.

LeMieux said Wednesday that he expects the tribe to reach an agreement with the state despite those concerns. "The tribe is extremely professional and I believe they will work in good faith to get something done, as opposed to failing to reach an agreement," he said.

The issues of contention will be the same as they were during the 2007 negotiations, LeMieux said: which games will the tribe receive exclusive rights to, how much will they pay the state, how many facilities will be allowed to offer black jack and other banked card games and how much regulation will they have to comply with.

The goal of the governor's office and the tribe is to have a compact signed by Aug. 31, the deadline legislators set out in the bill.

The governor's team will also include his general counsel Rob Wheeler and his chief of staff Eric Eikenberg. LeMieux said he is volunteering his time to work on the negotiationsto "keep some continuity to the talks."

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 3:50pm]


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