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Crist backs gambling deal; now it's up to Seminole Tribe

HIALEAH — Fresh from signing the Legislature's wide-ranging gambling expansion bill, Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday paid a visit to one of that bill's biggest beneficiaries — historic Hialeah Park.

Under the bill signed by Crist on Monday, Hialeah Park — which hasn't hosted a horse race since 2001 — will be allowed to offer live races again, while also opening a poker room.

"The goal is to restore Hialeah to the grandeur that it once was," track vice president John Brunetti Jr. said.

But Hialeah's comeback is not assured. Legislative language outlining the track's right to reopen as a slots casino is tucked into a larger bill that lays out the guidelines for a new gambling agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state.

The tribe has yet to sign off on that agreement, and there have been rumblings that the Seminoles are unhappy with some portions of the Legislature's bill — portions that could increase the tribe's costs and competition.

The Legislature's version of the agreement would allow the tribe to offer blackjack and other table games at its two Hard Rock resorts, in Hollywood and Tampa, plus two other casinos in Broward. Three Seminole casinos elsewhere in the state could offer slots, but no table games.

In return, the tribe would pay the state at least $150 million a year.

Crist is expected to immediately begin negotiations with the tribe, despite initial claims by Seminole attorney Barry Richard that the deal was a non-starter because it would require the tribe to continue payments to the state even if the Legislature or voters approved similar games for tracks outside South Florida.

Crist said Monday that he was optimistic' about reaching a deal with the tribe by the Legislature's Aug. 31 deadline. The tribe declined to comment on the issue. If Crist and the tribe come to terms, the compact agreement would return to the Legislature for a final vote.

Besides Hialeah, other parimutuel facilities across the state also have a lot at stake in the governor's negotiations with the Seminole Tribe. The Legislature's now-signed gambling bill includes a 15 percent tax reduction for Miami-Dade and Broward parimutuels that offer slots. Three such "racinos" currently operate in Broward, and two are under construction in Miami-Dade.

All parimutuels, whether they have slots or not, are allowed to add higher-stakes poker games under the Legislature's bill.

But in order for the parimutuel tax break and higher poker limits to take effect, the Seminoles and the state must reach a deal.

Crist backs gambling deal; now it's up to Seminole Tribe 06/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 12:23am]

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