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Seminole Tribe of Florida’

Scott: Lawmakers need to shut down barrel racing, slots

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott is calling on lawmakers to quickly close what he called a gray area in Florida law that allowed a Panhandle racetrack to get a permit for barrel racing and a card room and opened the door for slot machines.

Scott also for the first time said he doesn’t believe lawmakers meant to include as a legitimate gambling activity when they passed laws regulating pari-mutuels.

“It doesn’t appear to me that it was the intent of the law. They need to clear it up,” Scott told The Palm Beach Post this afternoon.

Scott’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation issued the quarter horse permit to Gretna Racing – owned by the Alabama-based Poarch Creek Indians and gambling lawyers David Romanik and Marc Dunbar – last month. Regulators believed there was nothing in Florida law allowed them to deny the permit, now being challenged in court.

Lawmakers need to put an end to the uncertainty over the barrel racing and possible spread of it to other facilities – a track in Hamilton County has applied for a barrel racing permit – Scott said.

“It’s not fair to people who invest their dollars. It’s not fair to people who are supposed to enforce the law if the law’s not clear. So the legislature ought to clear it up whether that’s allowed or not,” He said.

Scott said he wants the legislature to act quickly before voters in Gadsden County, where the Gretna track is located, go to the polls on Jan. 31 to vote on a referendum allowing slot machines at the casino.

Voter approval of the referendum could threaten the state’s agreement with the Seminole Indians and cost Florida the $225 million the tribe gives annually. That agreement requires that slot machines be limited to pari-mutuels in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Slots at tracks elsewhere in the state could blow up next year’s budget which relies on the Seminole cash, Scott said.

“By not doing something, they’re making a decision that will put the Seminole compact at risk. I think they ought to clear it up ahead of time,” Scott said.

Sheriff’s office, Seminoles dispute Bondi casino ‘money laundering’ claim

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Hillsborough County Sheriff‘s Office says it hasn’t investigated any links between drugsters and money laundering at Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, contradicting a claim made by Attorney General Pam Bondi last week.

“According to Chief Deputy Docobo, one of our detectives had a personal conversation with the Attorney General at a private function regarding money laundering in casinos. However our office has not conducted any investigation involving money laundering at casinos, nor do we have any official information that this type of criminal activity is/has occurred in Hillsborough County,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Bondi joined other anti-gambling forces at a press conference last week to publicly denounce a “destination resorts” proposal that would allow three casinos to open in the state. “Many money laundering cases” related to the casino, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, was one of the reasons Bondi gave for opposing the bill (SB 710).

The Sun Sentinel’s Nick Sortal blogged about the money laundering dispute:

But Bondi says that’s what she was told, and her office issued this statement Wednesday:

“At a charitable event on Nov. 12, I spoke with a deputy from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office regarding the gambling issue. I was absolutely told that in many of the last drug trafficking cases that they made, the money was laundered at the casino.”

Seminole Tribe Chairman James Billie had a blistering response to Bondi’s accusations in an op-ed slated to run in the tribe’s newspaper later this month.

“As long as I have been Chairman, since way back in 1979, and during the years I was out of office, I have never seen any information, whatsoever, come across my desk about money laundering,” Billie wrote. “In all these years the Seminole Tribe has conducted Gaming, since 1979, no audit has ever found any fraud, theft, embezzlement or large variances of any kind.”

The dispute over money-laundering puts the AG and the tribe at odds even though they’re both on the same side in opposing the bill.

“I am very disappointed to hear one of our top Florida government leaders come forward with such a statement that is so damaging to the reputation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida without checking its accuracy or even contacting us for our comments,” Billie said in his column.

Gambling deal on its way to governor

Monday, April 19th, 2010 by Dara Kam

A gambling deal that promises to bring at least $1 billion to the state over the next five years is on its way to Gov. Charlie Crist, who has promised to sign it into law.

The Florida House approved the measure (SB 622) by a 74-39 vote this afternoon.

It’s the third time Crist and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have signed off on a compact allowing the tribe to operate banked card games, including blackjack, and slot machines at its casinos.

The latest deal would allow the Seminoles to continue banked card games – blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer – at five of their seven casinos. Cards would not be allowed at the Brighton and Big Cypress facilities.

The agreement could rake in an extra $435 million for this year’s budget and help lawmakers struggling to fill a $3.2 billion spending gap for the year that begins July 1.

In return, the tribe will pay $150 million a year to the state for two years and a minimum of $223 million for three years that.

The agreement with the tribe also lets them keep running Las Vegas-style slot machines at each of their facilities for the next 20 years.

Rep. Bill Galvano, the House’s chief gambling negotiator who helped craft the pact, said the bill won’t expand gambling in Florida because the tribe has already launched the games.

Proponents of the agreement say the deal with the Seminoles could transform Florida into the Las Vegas of the Southeast and pave the way for other, non-tribal gambling operations in the future.

But opponents of the measure argued that more gambling will bring a host of problems to the state.

“If you want gambling like that you should go to Las Vegas. And what happens in Las Vegas should stay in Las Vegas,” said Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach.
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Florida Senate signs off on gambling deal

Thursday, April 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate approved a $1 billion gambling deal that could transform the state into the Las Vegas of the Southeast, leaving just one more step until the state’s compact with the Seminole tribe is finalized.

The Senate debated briefly before a 29-9 vote on a compact that the tribe has sought for more than two decades and which lawmakers twice rejected in the past two years.

The agreement struck by GOP lawmakers, Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminoles would allow the tribe to have Las Vegas-style slot machines at each of its seven locations and run blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer at five of their operations.

The lynchpin of the deal is the five-year agreement with the Seminoles giving them the exclusive rights to run banked card games, including blackjack, at five of their seven facilities, including their lucrative Tampa Hard Rock casino that brings in at least half of all the tribe’s Florida gambling revenue, according to Galvano.

Most important for the tribe is the prohibition against any of the state’s pari-mutuels outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties to run the card games.

Sen. Ronda Storms spoke passionately against the measure and criticized the lack of money going to gambling addiction programs.

“This is a sad day in the state of Florida where we…won’t even fund treatment. You can call the hotline and they’ll say, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. Bummer for you,’” Storms, R-Valrico, said. “I say the Florida Legislature is making a mistake and the governor of the state of Florida is making a mistake by going down this road and expanding gambling.”

The bill’s sponsor Dennis Jones defended the measure (SB 622), saying it “doesn’t even expand gaming” because the Seminoles are already running the banked card games at their Tampa and Hollywood Hard Rock casinos.

“What this does..it stops an illegal activity that’s already taking place,” said Jones, R-Seminole. “Let us basically put this issue to rest and move forward.”

Gov. Crist, Seminole Tribe announce $1 billion gambling deal

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Flanked by key lawmakers, Gov. Charlie Crist and leaders of the Seminole Tribe of Florida announced they have reached a gambling deal that would reap the state up to $1 billion over the next five years.

It’s the second time Crist and the Seminoles closed a gambling compact but the difference today is that lawmakers – who twice rejected those plans – played a major role in the negotiations leading up to today’s announcement.

“This cleans up and resolves a controversy that has been festering for the last two decades,” the House’s chief gambling negotiator Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

The latest deal would allow the Seminoles to continue banked card games – blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer – at five of their seven casinos. Cards would not be allowed at the Brighton and Big Cypress facilities.

If lawmakers must sign off on the compact, it could rake in an extra $435 million for this year’s budget and help lawmakers struggling to fill a $3.2 billion spending gap for the year that begins July 1.

In return, the tribe will pay $150 million a year to the state for two years and a minimum of $223 million for three years that.

The agreement with the tribe also lets them keep running Las Vegas-style slot machines at each of their facilities for the next 20 years.

But the deal on the cards expires after five years. Then, lawmakers would have to renew it for it to stay in effect.

House Speaker to feds: Gambling talks “at an impasse”

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Larry Cretul asked federal officials to intervene in gambling talks between Florida and the Seminoles, saying negotiations “are at an impasse.”

Cretul wrote a letter today to National Indian Gaming Commission Chairman George Skibine, who met with the speaker and the House’s chief gambling negotiator Bill Galvano yesterday, asking the feds to fine the Indians or shut them down.

Crist this week said he wanted lawmakers to address the gambling compact in a special session in December.

Cretul’s letter indicates that’s not going to happen.

The Florida Supreme Court last year tossed an agreement signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminoles and lawmakers this year failed to pass a revised version of the pact.

Under Crist’s latest plan, the Seminoles would have paid $150 million a year to the state for education in exchange for Las Vegas-style slot machines and blackjack and other card games at its Hollywood and Tampa casinos as well as its Brighton and Big Cypress locales in Broward County.

The Seminoles have continued to run the games even without an agreement with the state, irking GOP House leaders and Attorney General Bill McCollum, who accuse the tribe of breaking the law.
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Senate Prez tells guv no dice on gambling compact

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Atwater: no quick vote on compact

Atwater: no quick vote on compact

Senate President Jeff Atwater put the brakes on an October special session to deal with a gambling compact Gov. Charlie Crist signed with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, sent Crist a list of questions about the compact – the second deal Crist inked with the tribe – today seeking “clarification.”

Atwater gave Crist until Oct. 9 to respond.

In an interview, Atwater also said he’d like the final compact to include provisions allowing the Palm Beach Kennel Club and other parimutuels around the state to add video slot machines or otherwise expand gambling if voters give the OK in local referenda. Such a measure was approved by legislators in the spring, but was not part of the recent compact Crist agreed to with the Seminoles.

Crist: wants early-October vote

Crist: wants early-October vote

Crist has said he wants lawmakers to meet in a special session in early October to approve the compact and to also consider offshore drilling.

No dice on that, either, Atwater said in a memo sent to the Senate and the media.

“As you all are aware, this issue involves a series of complex conversations with a variety of interests and impacts throughout our State. There are policy decisions to be considered that are not well served by undue haste. If, or when, the Senate takes up this issue it will be in a manner that allows for sufficient time to debate the facts and the merits of such policy,” Atwater wrote.

“Red flags” in Crist-Seminoles gambling deal, Galvano says

Monday, August 31st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Shutting down the possibility of any kind of slot machine gambling at the state’s pari-mutuels and giving the Seminoles the right to offer blackjack at any of their casinos could jeopardize Crist and the tribe’s agreement, said state Rep. Bill Galvano, the House’s chief negotiator on the proposed compact.

“Those are red flags,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said. “We’ll review from here and see where we go.”

Lawmakers laid out a gambling deal for Crist and the Seminoles in a bill the governor signed into law earlier this year.

That proposal allowed the Seminoles to keep blackjack at its Hollywood and Tampa Hard Rock resorts and to offer it at its Brighton and Big Cypress locales in Broward County.

The bill also didn’t mention “Class II” slot machines that look and play like Las Vegas-style slots but are less lucrative for operators.

The compact signed by Crist and the tribe today gives the Seminoles the exclusive rights to operate slots of any kind – including Class II video lottery terminals – anywhere outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties where Las Vegas-style slots are already allowed.

That could have a devastating impact on the state’s dog and horse tracks, pari-mutuel operators object.

No slots of any kind for Palm Beach in new gambling deal

Monday, August 31st, 2009 by Dara Kam

The $12.5 billion deal Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminoles signed today takes slot machines off the table for the Palm Beach Kennel Club.

Track owner Pat Rooney Sr., his lobbyists and track owner Pat Rooney Sr. and some influential lawmakers had pushed for a Palm Beach County referendum in which voters could allow the track to expand its gambling operations to include slot machines. Senate President Jeff Atwater’s district includes the dog track.

But even the possibility of slots of any kind in Palm Beach County was a deal-breaker for the Seminoles, sources close to the negotiations said.

The final deal, which lawmakers must sign off on before it goes into effect, won’t allow slot machines or “slots-lite” – video terminals that look and play like the more lucrative Las Vegas-style slots – in Palm Beach or anywhere outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, where they are already permitted.

The Seminoles have agreed to pay the state $150 million a year or more, depending on how much their casino operations bring in, for 20 years in exchange for giving them exclusive rights to slot machine gambling throughout the state.

The tribe also gets to keep its blackjack games at all of its seven location although lawmakers had wanted that limited to the Broward County facilities and another near Tampa.

Crist, Seminoles sign gambling deal

Monday, August 31st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe of Florida agreed to a gambling deal today, the deadline lawmakers gave to Crist to reach an agreement with the tribe.

The deal won’t be final, however, until the legislature approves the contract, probably during a special session in October.

The $6.8 billion, 20-year deal allows the Seminoles to offer blackjack at each of their seven facilities.

But that’s not what lawmakers ordered Crist to do.

They told him they would only agree to let the Seminoles have blackjack at their three Broward County facilities and another near Tampa.

Lawmakers must sign on off the deal before it can go into effect.

“Over the last two months, my administration has in good faith negotiated with the Seminole Tribe of Florida a compact that will reap financial benefit to the people of Florida,” Crist said in a statement urging lawmakers to approve the compact.

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