Gov. to sign about billion dollar gambling deal with Seminole Tribe

Seminole Casino Immokalee

506 South First Street, Immokalee, FL

Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track

10601 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs, FL

Gov. Charlie Crist is holding a press conference at 11:30 to apparently sign the gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe that will give the state $1.5 billion for the next 20 years.

POSTED ON FRIDAY

Florida lawmakers have reached a tentative $1.5 billion gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe.

Under the deal, the Seminole Casino of Immokalee would keep black jack and the Naples-Fort-Myers Greyhound Track would be able to extend poker limits, expand poker room hours and have a chance to add video bingo machines.

The agreement came after a day-long secret meeting Friday in Tallahassee that involved top leaders of the House and Senate, representatives from Gov. Charlie Crist’s office and the Seminole Tribe.

“I think that we reached an agreement among the people that were at the table negotiating,” Seminole tribe attorney Barry Richard told the Naples Daily News.

However, Richard said that until all the relevant parties approve the deal -- including the Seminole Tribal Council -- the deal won’t be final.

“If it works it’s the right amount,” said Richard.

Under the plan, the tribe would pay the state $150 million in the first two years, $233 million in the third and fourth years and $234 million in the fifth year for the exclusive operation of black jack at their two casinos in Broward and casinos in Immokalee and Tampa, Legislature’s lead negotiator, Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told the St. Petersburg Times. All seven of the tribes’ casinos would continue to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines and make payments to the state for 20 years.

Tribal councilman Max Osceola remained cautious about the deal.

“I never predict the outcome of a game until the game is over,” he told the Naples Daily News. “We’re kind of in the third quarter... It’s not a done deal.”

This is the third time the tribe has reached a tentative agreement with the state since it began negotiating over slot machines, but it is the only time it has dealt directly with the Legislature. The tribe signed agreements with Crist in November 2007 and August 2009, but both were rejected by the Legislature. In each negotiation the Seminoles have upped the ante with Friday’s agreement being potentially the highest up-front payment.

The deal isn’t all about the Seminole Tribe as concessions were made to aid the struggling pari-mutuels industry. The agreement gives horse and dog tracks extended betting limits for poker and extended hours. Future legislation could eventually authorize expanded games for the 19 tracks and frontons outside of Miami Dade and Broward.

Those expansions could give them 350 video bingo and historic race machines, with definitions that require those games not to operate like slot machines, Galvano told the St. Pete Times, definitions he expects may disappoint some pari-mutuels.

As to whether one side beat the other, Richard said he thinks everyone came away on equal footing.

“I think it was hard negotiations. People on both sides respected what the other side indicated they needed and wanted,” said Richard. “I don’t think any party -- either side -- got or won anything. It’s good for the tribe and good for the state.”

Daily News reporters Elysa Batista and Steven Beardsley contributed to this report

Information from St. Petersburg Times and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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