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Gaming Foes Say Seminole Deal is ‘No Slam Dunk’

While Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe again celebrate having reached an agreement on Indian gaming and skeptical lawmakers begin weighing the details, critics of the deal are beginning to surface, not least of which are the tracks who aren't included.

The parent company of two Florida tracks that don't get any help from the compact on Tuesday blasted the deal, while opponents of expanding gambling, such as Florida Baptists, began rallying people to speak out against it, creating the prospect of some odd bedfellow opponents to legislative approval.

“Florida Baptists should be on the phone, writing emails and visiting their state senators and representatives with a very simple message: 'Just say no to this new Seminole Indian compact,'” Florida Baptist Convention legislative consultant Bill Bunkley said Tuesday in a story in the Florida Baptist Witness. “Will the Legislature cave once again to the big gambling interests?” Bunkley asked. “Who knows. What's certain, the next four to six weeks will be a huge tug of war, for sure.”

Lawmakers will have to return to Tallahassee to ratify the compact, with talk around the Capitol focusing on October, when a committee week was already scheduled. In the meantime, legislators are likely to hear from other gambling interests in addition to Baptists and other gaming opponents.

The deal with the Tribe provides some exclusivity to the Seminoles in exchange for a cut of the revenue, and that doesn't sit well with tracks that won't get a part of the action.

The compact is “a terrible deal for the people of Florida,” Isadore Havenick, Vice-President of Southwest Florida Enterprises, said in a statement released Tuesday. The company owns Flagler Dog Track in Miami and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Southwest Florida.

“The revised compact clearly favors one corporate entity over an entire industry that employs thousands of Floridians and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to Florida’s tax base each year,” Havenick said. He said the result of the compact is to end competition in gaming “before it ever begins” by giving the Tribe exclusive rights to certain types of gaming outside Miami-Dade and Broward County.

“The revised compact will cost thousands and thousands of Floridians their jobs and the state and local governments will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in reliable, recurring tax revenue,” Havenick warned.

With lobbying coming from more than one direction to scuttle the deal, House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, said the gambling compact clearly "is no slam dunk."

Hasner said Democratic lawmakers from South Florida, where the state's pari-mutuel industry is concentrated, will not endorse any compact seen as hurting the already struggling horse and dog tracks, and jai-alai frontons in the area. Similarly, there's a sizable cadre of Republican lawmakers in both chambers that are reluctant to embrace any proposal seen as dramatically expanding gambling in Florida.

"The governor's really going to have to thread the needle if he wants to get this through," Hasner said. "Anyone who thinks we just come up in October and pass this quickly is mistaken."

Even the Legislature's point man on the talks, Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has acknowledged concerns about the deal among lawmakers.

Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said the possible October special session will likely be marked by strange alliances between lawmakers, with Republicans opposed to any expansion siding with Democrats concerned about the compact's effect on nearby pari-mutuels.

"There are those who are morally opposed to gambling and others who don't want it to upset the current playing field," said Gelber, who added that he is still undecided on which way he's leaning on the compact. "The governor needs 61 votes in the House and 21 in the Senate to pass this thing. But it's not going to be an easy reach. There's a lot that can happen, though, between now and October."

Similarly, the governor's U.S. Senate aspirations could emerge in the gambling session as a political target for Democrats and conservative Republicans to shoot at, Gelber acknowledged.

And that's already started, with Crist's GOP primary opponent in the Senate race, Marco Rubio, criticizing the deal. Rubio, however, has long been opposed to it, and led an effort to sue over the first version of the compact in 2007. Rubio and the Legislature were successful in that effort, with the courts agreeing that Crist didn't involve lawmakers in talks over the compact.

“Gov. Crist’s newly finalized agreement with the Seminole Tribe repeats many of the original compact’s unconstitutional mistakes by straying from the Legislature’s deal and amounting to little more than an Indian gaming stimulus package,” Rubio said in a statement Tuesday.

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