TALLAHASSEE, Florida, June 15, (Reuters) - Florida Governor Charlie Crist on Monday signed into law a measure to expand gambling at Seminole Tribe of Florida casinos in exchange for at least $150 million a year.
The deal must still be approved by the tribe, which operates casinos on seven reservations around America’s fourth-most populous state.
The deal would guarantee Florida at least $150 million a year and an additional percentage of profits if gambling revenue exceeds $2.5 billion. Proceeds would be funneled into the state’s education trust fund, a stipulation made to salve the wounds of gambling critics.
The 15-year agreement would allow the tribe to continue to have Las Vegas-style slot machines and blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat at its three facilities in Broward County and one near Tampa. The tribe would be limited to slot machines only at its remaining four Florida locations.
“I am grateful to the Florida Legislature and the Seminole Tribe of Florida for their desire to provide much-needed funds for the children of our state,” Crist said. “A ratified agreement will provide much needed revenue that can help us develop world-class schools throughout the Sunshine State.”
If the tribe approves the deal, it will also allow them to offer no-limit poker at its seven Florida casinos and blackjack at south Florida sites.
The state is trying to reach an agreement with the tribe to share revenue from its seven casinos across the state.
Last year, the Florida Supreme Court threw out an agreement reached between the tribe and Crist in late 2007, saying the Republican governor lacked the authority to cement the deal without legislative approval.
Since then, lawmakers have been attempting to reach an agreement acceptable to both legislative chambers while also providing some relief to the state’s non-Indian parimutuel facilities -- horse tracks, dog tracks and jai alai frontons.
Non-Indian gambling venues also benefit. Poker rooms at the parimutuel facilities can stay open longer and offer larger pots.
Also, parimutuels in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, where local voters have already approved slot machines, will have their tax rate on the slots profits reduced to 35 percent from 50 percent. They’ll also be able to run blackjack and other card games if voters approve.
The compact could also lead to reopening historic Hialeah Park. Opened in 1925, the track and its pink renowned flamingos made it an international symbol of South Florida. The facility held its last live race in 2001. (Editing by Michael Connor in Miami and Padraic Cassidy in New York)