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Proposed Gaming Compact Looks Unlikely to Pass

The chairman of the House committee looking at a gaming compact that would give the state a cut of Indian gaming dollars, predicted the deal with the tribe signed by Gov. Charlie Crist won't win enough votes as is from Florida lawmakers.

The House panel met Monday in an attempt to start sorting through the compact that Crist and the tribe negotiated this summer. The terms of the compact differed from parameters that lawmakers set out in legislation last spring, and some legislators aren't so keen on the newer, Crist-signed version.

“I can't predict where we'll go,” said House Gaming Chair Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “I will predict on the success of ratification of the proposed compact, which I think is not going to pass. But where it goes from there is up to members.”

The major difference between the Crist-signed deal and the legislative parameters is that the governor’s compact would expand the availability of banked card games to all seven Seminole casinos in the state, while the Legislature originally only wanted to extend that to casinos in Broward and Hillsborough counties.

The concept of expanding gambling was difficult for some members to swallow, and taking what was already approved by lawmakers one step further, may be an impossible task.

“I would never vote to recommend the full House to approve that compact,” said Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, a member of the House Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review.

But numbers released Monday by legislative chief economist Amy Baker indicate the governor's preferred deal would bring in about $9 million more to the state. According to unofficial estimates from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, the governor's deal could bring in $811.7 million by fiscal year 2013. The deal as the Legislature envisioned it would bring in $802 million.

The negotiations between the state and Legislature have been a long and arduous process. In 2007, Crist had negotiated a gaming compact that would give the state a cut of gaming money earned by the tribe. But the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the compact, and said the Legislature must approve any sort of deal between the state and the tribe.

That led to the creation of the House committee, which drafted a proposed compact and authorized Crist to do the final negotiations. The entire Legislature approved a bill in the spring that included a proposed compact, and Crist took it back to the tribe.

The result was a deal that expanded banked card games to all seven casinos, something many lawmakers don't like.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles have continued to operate banked card games at their casinos as was approved in the invalidated 2007 compact, drawing ire from lawmakers.

House Speaker Larry Cretul wrote the federal Indian Gaming Commission asking the commission to shut down the Seminole's banked card operations.

"You also have the authority … to issue orders of temporary closure of gaming activities for substantial violations of the provisions of (the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,) of regulations prescribed by the Commission pursuant to IGRA, or of tribal regulations, ordinances, or resolutions," Cretul wrote in a letter to acting commission chairman George Skibine. "It is our hope that the NIGC exercises this authority to bring the Tribe into compliance with federal law."

Galvano said the committee is moving “rapidly” to make a recommendation to the entire House on whether to approve or reject the compact. Lawmakers have asked for more financial research from Baker as to how different scenarios would affect the state.

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