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In the cards: Vegas slots?

So far, it looks like the Seminoles can have those games, but neither roulette nor craps.

By STEVE HUETTEL and JENNIFER LIBERTO, Times Staff Writers
Published September 8, 2007


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As state officials and the Seminole Tribe of Florida go down to the wire in secret talks that could bring expanded gambling at tribal casinos, some parts of the deal are taking shape.

Roulette and craps appear to be out. Las Vegas-style slot machines and card games like blackjack, however, are very much in.

Florida will share oversight of new games and may set minimum slot machine payouts comparable to those in regulated gambling states such as Nevada and New Jersey.

Local governments could get a small slice of the state's casino revenue, with the rest going to education.

These details and more leaked out Friday as Florida officials released drafts of a possible deal proposed by the Seminoles to the Times and other news organizations.

The documents reflect "agreements, proposals and discussions, but no final agreement," said George LeMieux, chief of staff for Gov. Charlie Crist. He declined to be more specific while negotiations continue.

But the talks are expected to reach an end soon. "If we're going to have an agreement, it will be in the next two weeks," said LeMieux.

The sides agree in principle on sharing new gaming revenues and a range of other issues, said Barry Richard, an attorney for the Seminoles. "The only issue is in the details," he said.

Richard said negotiators agreed in concept for the tribe to pay $50-million immediately and at least $100-million a year. LeMieux, however, said the financial issue was still unresolved.

On Tuesday, representatives for Crist and the tribe will discuss the status of negotiations with Carl Artman, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for Indian affairs.

The federal agency can authorize Indian tribes to conduct any gambling sanctioned within their states. Florida's Seminole Tribe now runs seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

They now operate gaming machines that look like video slots, but actually are bingo games between players. The tribe is entitled to more lucrative Las Vegas-style slot machines since the state licensed three Broward County race tracks and a jai-alai fronton to offer them since last year.

Unlike the "racinos," the Seminole casinos don't pay state or federal taxes and aren't regulated by authorities outside the tribe.

Crist pledged in his campaign to oppose any expansion of gambling. But facing the likelihood of the feds giving the tribe upgraded slots - and leaving Florida without a share of the money or a say in how the casinos operate - he directed staffers to strike the best deal they could, said LeMieux.

Documents released Friday didn't answer one of the biggest questions: How much could the state reap?

One draft specified that 95 percent of state revenue would go to Florida's Educational Enhancement Fund, with 5 percent for local governments affected by the casinos with the new games.

The three drafts proposed giving the tribe exclusive rights to card games in the state. The Seminoles could cut off payments if the state allowed expanded gambling elsewhere in Florida, under one proposal. Another draft would let the state allow race tracks to offer video gambling machine without any penalty.

Various consumer protections popped up in the documents. The tribe proposed letting state regulators inspect its casinos and check slot machines periodically.

In one draft, the tribe agreed to waive sovereign immunity protection against personal injury lawsuits in state courts.

In another, the Seminoles proposed designated no-smoking areas for newly constructed slot machine areas and vented gaming tables. Tribal land isn't subject to the state's ban on smoking in public buildings and the Seminoles let customers light up throughout most its casinos.

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

[Last modified September 7, 2007, 23:24:25]


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