Seminole tribe: Casino deal will create 45,000 Florida jobs

The operator of the Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock hotels and casinos told a House committee Monday that the state can immediately use USD 288 million and will soon have another 45,000 jobs if the gambling agreement Gov. Charlie Crist signed with the tribe stays in place.

James Allen, the Seminole Gaming CEO and chairman of Seminole Hard Rock International, told a House committee on Monday that the tribe is working on plans to expand its Florida hotels and casinos and estimates the projects will add USD 4.5 billion to the state’s economy when finished.

“We think this is about jobs,” Allen told the House Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review. “We’re out hiring people. We’re not laying people off.”

His job projection includes almost 12,000 more people hired by the tribe and another nearly 34,000 jobs created indirectly.

While Allen’s promise of jobs and money might sound appealing to some at a time when state unemployment is the highest its been in 16 years and lawmakers are cutting the budget, House members probably won’t be quick to embrace the compact that Crist signed with the tribe, said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

“I believe this is a new negotiation,” Galvano said.

Galvano doesn’t think that the Republican-dominated House will support the idea of allowing the tribe to operate card games like blackjack. And he’s also concerned that the Seminole casinos will take business away from existing pari-mutuel facilities, which would reduce taxes the state receives from dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons.

The committee is taking the position that there is no valid compact because the Supreme Court said Crist didn’t have the authority to sign it. Allen disagrees, saying the compact is a federal issue and it’s valid unless a federal court says it’s not. The tribe has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Florida high court’s ruling.

The deal Crist signed in November 2007 allowed the tribe to install Las Vegas style-slot machines and card games. In exchange, the tribe agreed to give Florida at least USD 375 million over the first three years of the agreement and at least USD 100 million a year after that unless the state allows the games elsewhere or expands slot machines beyond Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuel facilities. “It’s not just the table games, if the compact is declared invalid, it’s the slot machines too,” Allen said. “We project we’d probably be laying off somewhere around 8,000 people.”

The tribe has already installed blackjack tables at its Hollywood, Tampa Hard and Immokalee casinos and Vegas-style slots at six of its seven casinos. Allen pointed out it is already giving money to the state. The state has set the money aside until the compact issue is resolved. If it is, Allen said USD 288 million would be available for the 2009-2010 state budget.

In the meantime, expansion plans, including an 1,100-room guitar-shaped hotel in Hollywood, are on hold.