Crist Quietly Signs Seminole Gaming Compact
With little fanfare, Gov. Charlie Crist signed off on the $1 billion Seminole Gaming Compact bill Wednesday, one of the biggest priorities of his administration.
Crist has been lobbying for a gaming compact for most of his gubernatorial career and the tribe has been pursuing one for almost two decades. Despite the public campaign for a compact, Crist chose not to conduct a public bill signing, putting his signature on the bill while legislative gaming negotiators Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, watched.
“Today’s bill signing is the last step in a historic effort that benefits both the Seminole Tribe and the entire state of Florida,” Crist said in a press release issued following the signing. “Following three years of healthy debate and deliberation, the children and families of Florida are now the beneficiaries of much-needed money that will be used to fund critical needs such as education.”
The new gaming law will allow the tribe to have exclusive rights to operate Vegas-style slot machines outside of South Florida, plus the right to operate banked card games such as blackjack and baccarat at five of its seven facilities. In exchange, the state will see a $1 billion infusion into its cash-strapped budget over the next five years.
The Seminole Tribe has long sought a gaming deal with the state that would give them exclusive rights to certain games, allowing them to quash competition. The tribes are sovereign nations, thus they are not governed by the state. The state can only receive money from the tribe if it gives the Seminoles something of value, such as exclusive rights to games.
Crist has negotiated three compacts with the tribe, but the Legislature only gave its approval for the final version. The first was invalidated by the Supreme Court and the second was quashed by lawmakers who said it went too far in expanding gambling in the state.
The last two years of negotiations have been pivotal in producing a compact, but some lawmakers remained squeamish about the deal, worrying about the expansion of gaming and also about harming pari-mutuels, which say they cannot adequately compete with tribal gaming facilities. The deal includes some incentives for the pari-mutuel facilities including expanded hours for poker rooms and higher stakes games. South Florida tracks will also receive a tax break on their slot profits, cutting the tax rate by 15 percent.