Court rejects pact with Seminole Tribe

07/03/08 Mitch E. Perry
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The Florida Supreme Court has ruled against Gov. Charlie Crist in the Seminole gaming contract, saying he had no authority "to change or amend state law."

Last November, Crist signed the 25-year deal that gave the tribe exclusive statewide rights to offer games like blackjack and baccarat and the only Las Vegas-style slots outside of South Florida. In return, the state was to receive a portion of at least $100 million in the first year.

Senate President Ken Pruitt said today that the state has already received $50 million dollars from the deal, but none of it has been spent yet.

House Speaker Marco Rubio sued last year after Crist signed the compact, saying that the governor did not have authority to do so. That opinion was shared at the time by outgoing Senate Minority Leader Stephen Geller from Broward County, who said the Legislature had no recourse but to "stop this folly."

Rubio’s legal advisor on gambling is University of Florida law professor emeritus Jon Miller – a gambling opponent who has consistently said that any compact is subject to state lawmakers approval.

Less than two weeks ago, Florida’s first legal blackjack games began at the Hard Rock in Hollywood.

Unlike some of Crist’s critics, who object to state sanctioned gambling, Sen. Steven Geller says he has no problem Indian gambling. He says he does have problems with a bad compact.

As far as the Seminole Indians are concerned, the beat goes on. In a press released sent out this afternoon, spokesman Gary Bitner wrote, “While the decision is disappointing, it is important to note that the decision has no immediate impact on the Tribe or its gaming operations. In its decision, the Court expressely stated this its decision is not final until it has ruled on any motion for rehearing. That process is likely to take a number of months. Depending on the final decision by the Court, the Tribe may seek review by the United States Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the publication Casino speculated that today's ruling means that the Seminoles will now get rights to the games through the federal system and not have to pay Florida a dollar of the revenue. The publication said “ Florida also took a big step in their movement towards becoming the next Las Vegas of the East through the ruling."

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