Florida gambling deal could net $1 billion

By David Royse
Tallahassee, Florida (AP) 9-07

The state and the Seminole Tribe are closing in on a deal that could mean $50 million immediately and at least $100 million a year for the state as they negotiate on what type of gambling the Indians can offer, a tribe lawyer said.

Gov. Charlie Crist has made no secret that he wants the state to see a hefty financial benefit from the Seminoles’ move to offer some type of Las Vegas-style gambling at its casinos.

But how much the state might get has been kept close as it tries to work out with the tribe just what the casinos would be allowed to offer and what would continue to be illegal.

Federal law allows states to negotiate with tribes to regulate what goes on in their casinos, and allows tribes to offer the state a cut of their revenue as part of the deal.

Seminole Tribe lawyer Barry Richard said Friday that the state and the tribe have agreed in principle on several issues, including a minimum the state would get from the deal.

“The state would receive $50 million at the time the compact is approved. The tribe would guarantee the state a minimum of $100 million a year,” Richard said. “The revenue allocation that we’ve agreed upon, based upon our estimates, would be substantially in excess of $100 million a year.”

Another source familiar with the negotiations said that in all, the deal could net the state more than $1 billion over five years.

The amount the state could receive above $100 million a year would depend on what games the tribe is allowed to have at the casinos – a detail still not fully hammered out. At a minimum, the Indians will be allowed to have slot machines, because they are allowed in Broward County dog and horse tracks and a jai-alai fronton. Federal rules generally allow tribes to offer games that are allowed anywhere else in the state.

The Seminoles also could be allowed to offer poker and other table card games, such as blackjack, which could increase the amount of money the state would get.

Theoretically, the tribe could pursue all types of gambling, but Crist has balked at allowing roulette or craps, Richard said, effectively taking those type games off the negotiating table.

Richard said he thought a final agreement could be worked out by the end of next week.

Officials in the governor’s office declined to confirm the dollar amounts. Crist has said several times that he was reluctant to throw numbers around publicly because his hopes might not pan out.

Crist’s chief of staff George LeMieux would only say that if the state doesn’t negotiate with the Seminoles, the tribe could begin offering casino-style gambling with the state having no say about the details and getting no revenue.

“The governor has asked me to try to negotiate the best deal possible,” LeMieux said.

Richard said there was nothing being discussed that would prevent the Legislature from considering additional gambling – or changing the way dog and horse tracks are taxed to help them compete with the Indian casinos.

He said if the Legislature, or the voters, decided to expand gambling elsewhere – by allowing video lottery terminals, for example – the settlement that’s in the works wouldn’t preclude that, although it would affect the amount of money going to the state.

On Friday, the governor’s office did respond to a public records request for proposals that are part of the negotiations by releasing several draft documents with a variety of possibilities. But the documents didn’t specify which terms were still on the table, or which ones were offered by the state and which by the tribe. They also didn’t include possible dollar amounts.

The documents mention a number of possibilities for the games, and details about how the casinos would be regulated, from smoking rules to combatting compulsive gambling.

They also give a hint how the state might use the money. Draft proposals mention the possibility of earmarking 95 percent of the revenue for education with the rest going to help local governments near the casinos deal with their effects.

Crist was traveling Friday and couldn’t be reached for comment.

The state needs the money. Lawmakers are trying to figure out how to bring the state budget in line with incoming taxes, which have dropped off considerably since the current budget was written back in the spring. The state shortfall for this year alone is about $1.1 billion.


Associated Press writer Jon Manson-Hing in Tallahassee contributed to this report.