Legislature must approve gambling compact

By Brendan Farrington
Tallahasee, Florida (AP) 9-07

As Gov. Charlie Crist nears a deal with the Seminole Tribe on gambling at its casinos, House and Senate leaders said Septmber 10th that any agreement has to be approved by the Legislature.

House Speaker Marco Rubio and the chamber’s Republican leadership also said in a letter to Crist that they are opposed to any deal that allows the tribe to offer gambling beyond what’s already allowed in the state. That would allow Las Vegas-style slot machines, but not other games such as blackjack or craps.

“We believe that the pursuit of increased revenue for the state should be of secondary importance in Florida’s negotiations with the Tribe,” the letter said. “Rather, we believe the aim of the negotiations should be to agree to the bare minimum amount of gambling to which the Tribe is entitled under the law. Instead of maximizing revenue, we want to minimize the inevitable social harm associated with expanded tribal gambling.”

Because the state allowed Vegas-style slot machines at Broward County jai-alai frontons and dog and horse tracks, the Seminole Indians believe they should be able to expand gambling at their casinos in South Florida, the Everglades and near Tampa.

The tribe argues that because the slot machines are considered Class III gaming, they should be allowed any Class III games, such as blackjack, roulette and craps. Attorney General Bill McCollum issued an opinion Thursday that said those games don’t have to be part of the negotiations.

At a minimum, the tribe would be allowed to install Las Vegas style slots. Right now, it has Class II slots – bingo-based video slot machines with which players compete against each other for payouts.

The deal being worked out could immediately provide the state with $50 million and more than $100 million a year, depending on what games are allowed and any guarantees the tribe would have exclusive rights to games within a certain geographic area.

While Rubio is opposed to a compact with the tribe that would allow any gambling beyond slot machines, Senate President Ken Pruitt won’t talk about his position other than that the Senate should ratify any agreement.

“The Senate takes the position that the state compact with the Seminole Tribe would need to be ratified by the Legislature in order to be valid. We won’t comment on the specifics of the current negotiations until there is, in fact, a compact,” Pruitt spokeswoman Kathy Mears said.

When asked about Rubio’s opposition to Vegas-style gambling, Crist said, “We’ll take his words into account because he’s my friend.”

But he didn’t fully commit to only going ahead with an agreement if the Legislature approves it.

“There’s sort of a mixed view of whether or not that’s absolutely essential, but our preference is to work in partnership with the Legislature,” Crist said.