Gaming may be DOA in Capitol

Las Vegas-style games have some powerful foes.

By Steve Huettel, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2007

A deal to allow Las Vegas-style gambling on tribal lands in Florida could face a major obstacle: the state Legislature.

On Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist said he would likely submit any agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to lawmakers for approval, although there are "mixed interpretations" about whether he must.

"My opinion is that we ought to get their approval, he told reporters in Tallahassee. "I care deeply about their opinion."

Crist's office and the tribe are discussing plans to allow Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games such as blackjack and roulette at Seminole-controlled casinos and give the state a cut of the profits. Crist hopes the cash will help make up a $1.1-billion budget shortfall in the coming year.

But such a deal would run into opposition in the Legislature. House Speaker Marco Rubio, a gambling critic, has already asked Florida's attorney general if the state is required by federal law to give the tribe games banned by Florida law.

Rubio is against expanding gambling, but wants to see details of the agreement, called a compact, before commenting, a spokeswoman said.

Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who supports more gaming at existing facilities, predicted any compact would die in the House because Rubio wields so much power as speaker.

"The chances of the state successfully getting revenue sharing from the tribe are slim to none if it has to go to the Legislature," he said.

Other opposition is building. On Thursday, Crist dismissed calls from anti-gambling forces to suspend negotiations with the tribe.

The Department of the Interior has given the state until Sept. 11 to reach a deal on Las Vegas-style slots and possibly table games at the tribe's seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

Otherwise, the agency itself could give the tribe expanded gambling, leaving the state without a share of revenues.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.