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Gambling Deal Trudges Forward, Deadline Looms

Players are at the table awaiting the Seminoles’ response to a state offer as negotiators try to meet an Aug. 31 deadline on a deal to expand gaming options and slot machines at Indian casinos around the state.

Tribal representatives on Thursday declined to discuss a proposal received by Seminole council representative Max Osceola on Wednesday after he met with negotiators from the Legislature and governor’s office.

The tribe’s legal counsel, Barry Richard, said Thursday he was out of the loop on any new wrinkles in a potential gambling accord. Negotiators have been working with the tribe to forge a deal by Monday, a Legislature-imposed deadline.

Following a court ruling that Crist overstepped his authority when he struck a deal with the tribe in 2007 on how the state might allow more gambling in exchange for a cut of the revenue, the Legislature in May approved a proposed agreement that took a more conservative approach.

The measure allowed the tribe to offer higher stakes slot machines at its seven casinos. The proposal also allowed blackjack and baccarat at its two Hard Rock Cafes and a tribal casino in Broward County. In exchange, the tribe agreed to pay the state at least $150 million a year and more as profits climbed.

For non-Indian owned pari-mutuels, the proposal lowers the tax rate for slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. Horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons across the state would be allowed to stay open longer and offer no-limit poker. Further, the deal left open the potential of more games if local voters approve.

That expansion, however, only occurs if the compact is approved. Track owners are waiting for direction, said Christian Ulvert, a lobbyist representing South Florida pari-mutuels.

If the Seminoles can’t reach a deal with lawmakers by the deadline, it’s a little unclear what might happen. The federal Interior Department has said that it would authorize Class 3 gaming at tribal facilities anyway, with the state unable to share in the revenue. Not everyone agrees that the federal agency has the authority to do that, however.

If the legislators and the tribe do reach an agreement, the state could begin tapping money that’s been accruing since the tribe went to higher stakes gambling, and lawmakers would likely hold a special session to appropriate the roughly $160 million the state would have access to.

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