By Ken Davison
A Florida House panel voted unanimously last Thursday to reject the gaming compact negotiated last summer between Florida Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminole Indian Tribe.
The 17-0 gambling committee vote reflects opposition to terms in the compact that allows the Seminoles to operate banked games, such as blackjack, at their casinos. In return, the Tribe would have shared casino revenue with the state. The Tribe began dealing blackjack at three of its south Florida casinos in 2008.
That first compact was later voided by the state Supreme Court which concluded that the governor exceeded his authority and that a compact would need approval by the state legislature. That voided compact would have yielded the state $100 million over 25 years in casino revenue sharing. It was the second compact negotiated between the governor and the Tribe that was voted down last week.
State lawmakers have asked the federal government to shut down the Seminole´s blackjack games, saying they are illegal. The Seminoles claim they should be allowed to have blackjack because pari-mutuels are offering a virtual blackjack game in which there is no live dealer.
The Seminole Tribe has the right to operate any gambling games that are already permitted in the state without a compact. Slot machines were approved by voters for pari-mutuels in Broward County in 2005 and later in Miami-Dade County in 2008. Pari-mutuels are betting systems commonly used in horse racing, greyhound racing and jai alai where the the total paid out is based on the total amount bet less a percentage kept by the house.
The Seminole Tribe in Florida opened its bingo hall in 1979 followed by casinos and in 2006 the Tribe bought the Hard Rock hotel and restaurant chain. Seminole Tribal members receive an estimated $120,000 per year in distributions from casino profits.
Seminole Tribe attorney Barry Richard said the Tribe made a vigorous effort to work out an agreement. ¨It's disappointing — the tribe can't continue to wait forever," Richard said.
Representative Bill Galvano, chairman of the House Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review, told the committee that the rejection of the compact was not a line in the sand and that lawmakers are willing to negotatiate with the Tribe.
After learning of the compact´s demise last week, Gov. Crist said in a statement, “While today’s vote is disappointing, I agree with Rep. Galvano that the decision does not represent a line in the sand. 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.”
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