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Judge denies AG's request to stop Seminole gambling agreement

By Brendan Farrington
Tallahassee, Florida (AP) 1-08

Attorney General Bill McCollum lost his effort to halt a gambling agreement between Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe after a federal judge in Washington said that the state won’t be harmed by letting the deal go into effect.

McCollum sued the U.S. Department of the Interior, saying the compact Crist signed with the tribe in November shouldn’t go into effect until the state Supreme Court decides whether Crist had the right to enter into the deal on his own.


But U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman rejected the argument, saying there was no proof the state would be irreparably harmed.

“If the Supreme Court says it’s void, it’s void,” Friedman said. “While there may be a theoretical problem, it’s unlikely to be a real problem.”

House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, believe Crist didn’t have the authority to sign the agreement on his own, arguing the Legislature also needs to give its approval. Crist and McCollum are also Republicans.

The Supreme Court will hold arguments on the case Jan. 30.

The Interior Department argued it was only following federal procedures. Once the compact is signed, the department has 45 days to take action on it. If none is taken, it must send the compact to the Federal Register for publication, which the department did. Once published, it goes into effect.

“(McCollum’s) attempt to interfere with the administrative process is disruptive, as well as contrary to Congress’ will,” an Assistant U.S. Attorney General wrote in response to the lawsuit.

He added the compact doesn’t authorize any illegal gambling, because federal law, and not state law, oversees gambling on Indian lands.

“By contrast, preventing publication will delay the transfer of $50 million to the public coffers of the State of Florida and will interfere with the sovereign undertakings of the tribe,” he said.

McCollum has said he was trying to prevent gambling from starting and then later stopping if the Supreme Court agrees with Rubio and Pruitt. He did not immediately comment on Friedman’s decision.

The compact allows Las Vegas-style slots and card games like blackjack and baccarat at the Seminole’s seven casinos. The state would get $50 million immediately and $100 million guaranteed in the first year. In the second year, the state is guaranteed $125 million and at least $150 million in the third year. Following that, the amount depends on revenues – but everyone involved in the negotiations said it will quickly add up to billions.

Without the compact, the tribe would have at least been able to install Las Vegas style slots without paying any money to the state because Florida approved slots at Broward County jai-alai frontons and horse and dog tracks.

Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo in Washington contributed to this report.

 

 

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