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House's gaming proposal would revoke Seminoles' rights to blackjack

TALLAHASSEE — Amid warnings that expanding gambling is not a good bet for the state this year, a House committee passed a scaled-back Indian gaming bill Friday.

The House select committee on tribal gaming voted 17?1 Friday to give the Seminole Tribe the exclusive right to operate Class III slot machines at its seven casinos in Florida in return for $100 million a year.

The proposal authorizes Gov. Charlie Crist to renegotiate the gambling compact that has been invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court, but it also requires him to order the tribe to forfeit the blackjack and house-banked card games it won under his original plan.

The court ruling found the games to be illegal in Florida since there is no specific legislation allowing them.

Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who heads the House committee on the gambling compact, said the plan is a good balance between the tribe's legal right to have slot machines and the desire of lawmakers to limit gambling in Florida.

The proposal would dedicate most of the state's share of money from Seminole gambling to education, but divert 5 percent to local governments and to programs that address the social consequences of gambling.

The House's gambling plan is a stark contrast to a Senate plan that passed out of its first committee last week. The Senate has proposed giving the tribe full casinos, including craps and roulette, lowering the tax rate on slots at horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons, and giving "racinos" — race tracks that have slot machines — card games such as blackjack. The agreement also would give parimutuels outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, including those in Tampa Bay, bingo-style, Class II slot machines.

Meanwhile, Crist and the Seminole Tribe continued to urge lawmakers to ratify the original compact, which would yield $100 million a year in revenue sharing to Florida — $288 million by the end of the 2010 budget year.

"To me, the obvious point is we will have more money for education if that is done and if it's not done, we will not," Crist said at a news conference Friday.

Wayne Blanton, director of the Florida School Boards Association, called the compact an essential "infusion of dollars" this year. And Bill Montford, head of the Florida Superintendent's Association, said his organization was "supportive" of the governor's approach.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.

>>Fast facts

The different gambling proposals

The House: Give the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to operate Las Vegas-style Class III slot machines at its seven casinos in Florida.

The Senate: Give the tribe full casinos, including craps and roulette, lower the tax rate on slots at horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons, and give "racinos'' — race tracks that have slot machines — card games such as blackjack. Give parimutuels in Tampa Bay and elsewhere (except Miami-Dade and Broward counties) bingo-style, Class II slot machines.

The Governor: Give the tribe Class III slot machines and exclusive rights to "banked" table games, including blackjack and baccarat, where gamblers play against the house. Parimutuels and race tracks would be forbidden from expanding their gambling offerings.

House's gaming proposal would revoke Seminoles' rights to blackjack 04/03/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 6, 2009 9:02am]
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