Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tribes In The Media: Seminoles Not Happy With Florida Compact Negotiations

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This installmnet of The Tribes In The Media is a Miami Herald article on Florida's proposed gaming compact with the Seminole Indians.

Seminole gambling deal in Florida on hold
By Mary Ellen Klas
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
July 28, 2009

TALLAHASSEE -- Negotiations over a gambling deal between the governor and Seminole Tribe have been on hold for the last two weeks as they 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, the former chief of staff to Gov. Charlie Crist who is on the legal team representing the governor in the talks.

But Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who has been the House's point man on the issue, said Monday he believes the blueprint passed by lawmakers for negotiations was the final word.

"They want a counter offer and that's not what the legislation called for," Galvano told the Herald/Times. "We don't view it as an opportunity to renegotiate what was presented."

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

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

But lawmakers didn't rule out the option for expanded gambling elsewhere -- such as slot machines operating at Miami International Airport or in other parts of the state. They simply said that if lawmakers expanded gambling, the tribe wouldn't owe the state as much money.

The tribe wants the exclusive right to slot machines outside South Florida and the failure of legislators to guarantee that has been the crucial sticking point in the only day of formal meetings held to negotiate the compact thus far, said several participants.

Galvano was present at the meeting, as was Senate President Jeff Atwater's chief of staff, Budd Kneip. He was more of a "silent observer" than participant, however, said Senate spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof, and Galvano "made it clear, the Legislature had acted."

But LeMieux believes the legislative inflexibility could lead to no deal.

"What's at stake here is whether we are going to have limited gaming in Florida," he said. "If we do not approve a compact, I'm concerned the future of Florida is casinos in every part of our state."

LeMieux, whose first attempt at negotiating the compact was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court because it offered the tribe black jack and other banked card games that were not legal in Florida, said the legislation passed last spring improved on the first agreement.

"I think the Legislature actually did some improving, but everybody has got to be flexible in the negotiations or it won't be successful," he said.

LeMieux said he fears that if the state fails to close the deal with the Seminoles, the federal government will step in and give them everything they have now with no limits, and Florida will recover nothing in new revenue.

That will open the door, he said, to even more expanded games -- from slot machines at the Miami airport, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Myers "and the 7-11 in Chiefland."

"There's a chance we're going to be back in the wild, wild West," LeMieux said.

Galvano sees it differently. He said that the first compact the governor negotiated allowed the tribe to adjust its revenue sharing if additional games were added in Palm Beach County but negate the deal if they were added elsewhere in the state.

"We've taken it a step further," he said, noting that the legislation allows for revenue to be adjusted if slots are added anywhere in Florida. "Let's have a more fair approach."