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Florida Legislature approves Seminole gambling pact

TALLAHASSEE — A state budget crisis and crippling economy did Monday what 20 years of political contributions and threatening lawsuits couldn't do: get the Florida Legislature to pass a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe.

The House voted 74-39 to ratify the compact and send it to Gov. Charlie Crist, who said Monday he will sign it.

It comes with a guarantee that the state will get at least $1 billion over the next five years in exchange for giving the tribe the exclusive right to blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat in casinos in Broward, Immokalee and Tampa; and Las Vegas-style slot machines at all seven of its casinos. If the tribe's casinos do well, the check it writes to the state will increase even more, based on an percentage of net revenue.

The agreement took negotiations that were "stuck in the ditch and put the State of Florida back in the driver's seat," said Rep. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, who has been trying to work out an agreement for two years.

Conservatives decried it as evil. Democrats complained the money didn't go to education. And proponents called it a good deal for Florida that will help close a $3.2 billion budget gap.

"The reason this passed is the same reason the cigarette tax passed last year, they couldn't balance the budget without the money," said Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat who worked on the negotiations. "I'm not naive enough to think it was anything else."

But, he added, "this is a fantastic deal for the state," and he commended Galvano for bringing an agreement to a close.

Working behind the scenes with lawyers from the tribe, the Governor's Office and the Senate, Galvano reached the compromise by seizing on an idea from Seminole Hard Rock chief executive Jim Allen and wrapping it into a package that buys time for the Seminoles, the state, and gambling competitors.

Allen suggested the state regulate table games — blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat — for five years.

The compact requires the tribe to make payments to the state on its slot machines for 20 years.

The deal gives the parimutuels expanded hours for poker rooms and lets them continue to ask lawmakers for casino games. Legislators and voters also will have time to decide if they want to continue gambling expansion, including a push by Las Vegas companies to bring "destination resort" casinos to Florida.

Florida Legislature approves Seminole gambling pact 04/19/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 19, 2010 9:36pm]
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