Seminole gambling deal hits snag

Tallahassee — Gov. Charlie Crist’s goal to seal a gambling deal soon with the Seminole Tribe of Florida has hit a major snag: the Legislature.

House Speaker Marco Rubio laid down the gauntlet in a letter to Crist Monday, demanding that lawmakers be allowed to approve or reject the proposed agreement between the governor and the tribe and warning that if the compact allows games now outlawed in Florida, GOP leaders „won’t support it.“

Crist responded that he wants to work with legislative leaders but, in the face of mounting pressure against the proposal still being hatched, admitted that the compact may fall apart.

„I’m not sure we’re going to have a compact,“ Crist told reporters.

Crist’s office released draft copies last week of a proposal written by the Seminoles that would give them Las Vegas-style card games such as blackjack and baccarat in addition to slot machines in exchange for giving the state part of the revenue. Sources close to the negotiations said the potential revenue to Florida was USD 200 million a year.

Rubio, who has vowed to oppose the expansion of gambling more than he has done in the past, told Crist he believes the negotiations should aim „to agree to the bare minimum of gambling.“

„For us, money is not, and never will be the primary consideration,“ he wrote in a letter also signed by Republican House leaders Ray Sanson, Dean Cannon, Marty Bowen, Ellyn Bogdanoff and Adam Hasner.

The letter declared that the House believes that „such a compact will not be valid unless it is ratified by the Legislature.“

Senate President Ken Pruitt agrees with Rubio on that point.

„The Senate takes the position that the state compact with the Seminole Tribe would need to be ratified by the Legislature in order to be valid,“ said Kathy Mears, Pruitt’s spokeswoman.

But, unlike Rubio, the Senate „won’t comment on the specifics of the current negotiations until there is, in fact, a compact,“ she said.

Crist continues to argue „there’s sort of a mixed view as to whether or not it’s absolutely essential“ that the Legislature approve the compact, and while he would like to bring it to lawmakers, he has not promised to have them „ratify“‚ it.

“Our preference is to work in partnership with the Legislature,“ he said.

The governor’s chief negotiator, George LeMieux, has said he believes the governor’s office is not obligated to bring the issue to lawmakers.

The first page of one of the more recent drafts of the compact spells that out: „The governor of Florida is the chief executive officer of the state and has authority to act for the state with respect to the negotiation and execution of this compact.“

But even if the governor does take the proposal before lawmakers, Rubio made it clear what many had been saying for weeks: It’s a long shot that the Legislature would sign off.

„We cannot support any compact that would permit the Tribe to conduct more types of gambling than it is entitled under federal law,“ Rubio’s letter says.

He cited an opinion by Attorney General Bill McCollum, written last week at Rubio’s request, that says the state has no obligation to give the tribe more than slot machines. But LeMieux has said the state also is not prohibited from going beyond that to raise additional cash for Florida.

Crist disagreed with Rubio and said he is not motivated by money but by „trying to get the best opportunity for the taxpayers of our state.“

The governor, who said during his campaign that he did not support expanding gambling, said he doesn’t have to justify violating that promise since he hasn’t succeeded yet in giving the tribe games that are currently illegal. „Let’s see if that ends up in the final conclusion before we have to justify it,“ he said.