Crist, Fla. Seminoles agree on new casinos deal

TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Charlie Crist signed a new deal Monday to allow blackjack and other banked card games at all seven Seminole Indian casinos – not just the four that the Legislature authorized when setting parameters on the deal last spring.

Still, Crist predicted the Legislature will accept the deal that would provide the state with a minimum of $150 million a year for 20 years. Nearly all the money would be used for public schools, state and community colleges, and state universities.

“I believe that it’s close enough to what the Legislature wants that it ought to be able to obtain their approval,” Crist said. “I hope they will because I know it’s good for the kids.”

Crist said he expects lawmakers to vote on the proposal during a special session in October.

The Florida Supreme Court last year nullified an earlier compact Crist signed with the tribe because it did not have the Legislature’s approval. That deal also allowed blackjack at the seven Seminole casinos, but only guaranteed the state $100 million a year.

Lawmakers then directed the governor to try again and set limits on how far the expansion could go and demanded more money for the state. Lawmakers only approved blackjack at three Broward County casinos and a Hillsborough County casino. Monday was the deadline for completing those negotiations.

“I think we’ve gotten as close as we can with the tribe,” Crist said. “There’s certain things they want, certain things the Legislature wants and we’re trying to get them as close as we can.”

Rep. Bill Galvano, who led the House efforts on the compact during last year’s session, said allowing blackjack at all the tribe’s casinos is a “red flag.” The other three casinos are in Immokalee, Brighton and Big Cypress.

“It was very difficult to get the expansion to Broward and Hillsborough in the original bill so I can only predict that there will be pushback from the members of my chamber with regard to expansion to all seven facilities,” said Galvano, R-Bradenton.

The Republican-dominated House generally has been opposed to expanding gambling and was hesitant to allow Blackjack at all in the last session.

Under the latest deal, the tribe would share between 12 and 25 percent of its net gambling profits as long as the state didn’t expand gambling beyond the slot machines now allowed at Broward and Miami-Dade County dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons.