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Slots of ill will

A Times Editorial
Published January 21, 2007


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The same Seminole Tribe that complained former Gov. Jeb Bush stonewalled its request for Las Vegas-style slot machines is now trying to cut new Gov. Charlie Crist out of the picture. Though the tribe's impatience is understandable, its court action smacks of duplicity.

Yes, voters in Florida in 2004 authorized the operation of full-scale slots in two counties, and one, Broward, has okayed slots for four parimutuel facilities. Yes, Bush, a fervent gambling opponent, wasn't eager to extend those privileges to the tribal reservations. And, yes, a U.S. Interior Department official issued an ultimatum to the state in September.

But the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which gives tribes the right to offer any gambling authorized under state law, clearly envisions that each state and tribe will negotiate the terms through a compact. And Gov. Crist, within a week of his inauguration, formally announced his intention to do so. So why would the tribe go to court just eight days later? Why not give Crist the chance to show he will negotiate in good faith?

In its legal motion, the tribe calls the matter "one of extreme urgency" and asks a federal judge to force the U.S. Interior secretary to approve slot machines on its properties. It notes that two Broward parimutuel facilities already have opened their full-scale slots and insists its own three gaming facilities there are being put at a competitive disadvantage. That's true, but it is also true that the proposed Interior regulations would allow the tribe to operate full-scale slots at any of its other Florida facilities as well, including in Hillsborough and next to the Big Cypress National Preserve.

That's only the beginning. The Interior rule would also allow the Seminoles to bypass revenue sharing, stay open 24 hours a day with an unlimited number of slot machines, and avoid all state regulation. By comparison, the parimutuels pay extensive taxes and are limited by hours of operation and the number of slot machines.

The Seminoles contend, in the court documents, that the Interior secretary has withheld approval because of "political pressure from the governor." That may or may not be true, but the tribe's legal tack now seems aimed at removing Gov. Crist from the political equation. Hundreds of millions of potential dollars in revenue sharing are at stake for Florida, and Crist has asked for the chance to negotiate. Neither the court nor the Interior Department should want to stand in the way.

[Last modified January 20, 2007, 20:35:00]


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