After 16 years of rejected proposals and one more year of delicate negotiations, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Governor Charlie Crist finally agreed to sign a compact giving the Seminoles the right to operate gaming facilities across Florida for the next 25 years.

The depth and sensitivity of the talks needed to reach this agreement have been compared by all parts to a negotiation between nations. It all started 16 years ago when the Seminoles first approached Florida Governor Lawton Chiles to get permission for Vegas-style gambling. Seminole leader and general tribal counsel Jim Shore made a powerful statement then: “If you want to limit gambling, limit it to the Seminole reservations and get paid in the process.” Unfortunately for the Seminoles, both Governor Chiles and the following Governor Jeb Bush were completely opposed to gambling, and they both declined.

The Seminole tribe was not ready to give up, and they approached Governor Crist as soon as he started his transition into office a year ago. The response was finally encouraging, as Crist sent out his top two advisors – general counsel Paul Huck and chief of staff George LeMieux – to meet with the tribal leaders this April. The government’s first offer was to give the tribe Class III slot machines only. The tribe’s first proposal was to be allowed slot machines, all casino games (including roulette and craps,) and permission to build more than one casino on the larger reservations. The negotiations began.

Six months later, both parts agreed on a compact with the following concessions:

– The tribe gets exclusive rights to operate gaming facilities for the next 25 years at their reservations in Immokalee, Big Cypress, Brighton, Hillsborough and Broward County.
– Upon approval of the compact, the tribe will pay $50 million up front to the State of Florida.
– The tribe will be allowed to offer blackjack and baccarat along with slots.
– The tribe will raise minimum casino age from 18 to 21.
– A compromise was reached on a smoking ban: the casinos will have designated non-smoking areas and air purifying systems.
– According to LeMieux, the State of Florida will receive “as much as $1 billion over the first five years and $500 million every year thereafter”, which will be invested in education. The tribe has committed to making minimum annual payments of $100 million, plus giving the state a percentage of the revenue after the third year.

Poker players will be glad to hear that, if the compact is approved, the Seminoles will be allowed to hold six NL Hold’em tournaments every year, and 70% of the revenue from those tournaments will be invested in charitable organizations.

The Seminole tribe and the State of Florida are hopeful that the compact will be approved into a law, which will give the Seminoles better business opportunities and help Florida to keep gambling contained. In the words of LeMieux: “We will not see a casino on every corner in Florida.”

Not everybody is happy about this development: Florida’s House of Representatives filed a petition with the State Supreme Court, accusing Crist of exceeding his authority by signing the compact without approval from the assembly.

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