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Seminole casino deal with Florida remains in holding pattern

TALLAHASSEE — Negotiations over a gambling deal between the governor and Seminole Tribe have been on hold for the past three weeks as both parties await word on whether the House and Senate will modify their take-it or leave-it offer.

"The ball is kind of in their court,'' said George LeMieux, former chief of staff for Gov. Charlie Crist and now on the legal team representing the governor in the talks.

But legislative leaders seem unlikely to budge from the blueprint they wrote during the spring legislative session and say it's their final offer to the tribe.

"I don't necessarily think we're in a negotiating mood," said House Speaker Larry Cretul on Tuesday.

Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who has been the House's point man on the issue, attended the early July meeting with the tribe and governor's lawyers and told them the legislation is their final word.

"They want a counteroffer and that's not what the legislation called for," Galvano told the Times/Herald.

The Legislature gave the governor until Aug. 31 to complete an agreement, or compact, with the tribe that would formally give it the right to operate slot machines and blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer at tribal casinos in South Florida.

The deal also allows the tribe the exclusive right to operate slot machines at its casinos in Tampa and Central and southwest Florida. In exchange, the tribe would pay the state at least $150 million a year.

Lawmakers didn't rule out the option for expanded gambling elsewhere. But if lawmakers expand gambling, the tribe won't owe the state as much money.

The Seminoles want the exclusive right to slot machines outside of South Florida. The failure of legislators to guarantee that provision was the sticking point during the one-day meeting, several participants said.

Senate President Jeff Atwater's chief of staff, Bud Kneip, attended the meeting and supported Galvano's position that "the Legislature had acted," said Senate spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof.

LeMieux said he fears that if the state fails to close the deal with the Seminoles, the federal government will step in and give the tribe gaming with no limits, and Florida will receive no new revenue from the tribe.

Galvano believes that if the tribe rejects the legislative offer, the federal government won't step in and the tribe will have to take the state or federal government to court.

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

Seminole casino deal with Florida remains in holding pattern 07/28/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 10:38pm]
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