TALLAHASSEE — In a 10-minute meeting intended as a rebuke to Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe, a Florida House committee shot down the governor's gambling agreement with the tribe and offered a bill that would give financial relief to its gambling competitors.
The Seminole Indian compact review committee voted 15-0 to reject both the governor's gambling agreement and the $225 million the tribe had set aside for the state's education system if a compact had been completed. It then voted 15-2 to lower the tax rate on slot machines at South Florida parimutuels and loosened some gambling limits.
The next step, House leaders say, is for the federal government to shut down slot machines and blackjack tables at the tribe's casinos until a compact is signed.
"This is a signal to the federal government — among many other signals that have occurred over the past year," said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who chairs the committee. "Hopefully, it will be a signal that is not lost on them."
In November, House Speaker Larry Cretul sent a letter to the National Indian Gaming Commission, which regulates tribal gaming, urging it to halt the tribe's casino games because their "ability to profit from these illegal games creates a disincentive to enter into a compact, and places the state at a significant disadvantage in negotiating games to which it never gave its consent."
The tribe is running Las Vegas-style slot machines, blackjack, baccarat and other table games based on a 2007 compact that was invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court because it allowed the tribe to operate games that were illegal under Florida law. Crist signed a new compact with the tribe Aug. 31, but it is not valid unless the Legislature ratifies it.
National Indian Gaming Commission spokesman Shawn Pensoneau said the agency is monitoring the compact issue, but said there would be no immediate action. Galvano said he expects a decision could come this month.
Crist called the Thursday vote disappointing, but remained optimistic an agreement will be reached by the end of the annual legislative session in May.
"We obviously have a long way to go before the end of session, so there is plenty of time for the Florida Legislature to approve a plan that would direct billions of dollars to Florida schools for years to come," he said.
Legislators said they rejected the governor's proposal primarily because it kept Florida's parimutuels at a permanent disadvantage to the tribe.
Miami Herald staff writer Michael Vasquez contributed to this report.