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Atwater Sends Crist Questions on Seminole Deal

Senate President Jeff Atwater wants answers to questions about a gaming compact negotiated by the governor with the Seminole Tribe before the Senate gives the final OK on a deal that would significantly expand gaming in the state of Florida.

When the Legislature might consider the compact depends largely on when the governor’s office provides acceptable answers to the Senate. Atwater suggested last week that a special session before November was unlikely given the many unanswered questions in the eyes of senators.

“Before we can begin to engage a much broader conversation on those questions that might remain, it is important that we fully understand the technical underpinnings and ramifications of the proposed compact language,” Atwater said in a letter delivered to Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday.

Atwater and James Rhea, staff director for the Senate's Regulated Industries Committee, directed a nine page document to Crist General Counsel Rob Wheeler asking for answers to 24, multi-faceted questions regarding the compact. Nearly all of the questions are regarding definitions of terms such as “other casino-style gaming,” “video lottery terminals” and other terms related to the Seminole casinos.

It also asks several questions about an exclusivity clause in the agreement. In order for the tribe and state to enter into an agreement, the state had to give the tribe some sort of exclusive benefit that non-tribal casinos do not receive.

In the Crist-inked deal, the Hard Rock Cafes in Tampa and Hollywood, and the tribal casino in Broward would be allowed to operate banked card games. It would also allow the tribe to keep card games that are already being offered at its Immokalee facility and add the games to its Brighton and Big Cypress casinos.

The negotiations with the tribe have been dragging on for years. In November 2007, Crist signed a deal with the tribe that would give the state a cut of the tribe's proceeds. But the Florida Supreme Court ruled that following summer that the Legislature was required to ratify any agreements between the governor and the tribe.

A legislative proposal passed by both chambers in May was not accepted by the tribe, and negotiators forged the new deal in August. The new deal calls for the tribe to pay the state $6.8 billion over the next two decades in exchange for exclusive rights to certain games outside of South Florida.

Crist's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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