Gives tribe exclusive right to operate table games in South Florida

Florida lawmakers have reached a $1.5 billion, five-year gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe that will give the tribe the exclusive right it has been seeking to operate table games in South Florida and slot machines at its other casinos.

In addition to blackjack and other table games at its casinos in Hollywood, Immokalee and Tampa, the tribe will have the option to add table games to its casino in Coconut Creek, under the terms of the agreement, and all seven of the tribe’s casinos would continue to operate slot machines for the next 20 years, for which it will pay the state.

The deal includes the highest up-front payment that has been negotiated with the tribe so far. The Seminoles will fork over $150 million in the first two years, $233 million in the third and fourth years and $234 million in the fifth year.

“We feel we have an agreement we can take back to our respective chambers,” Rep. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and the Legislature’s lead negotiator, told the St. Petersburg Times. But he added, “It's not a done deal until we get it through the House, the Senate and the tribal council.”

This is the third time the tribe has reached an agreement with the state since it began negotiating over slot machines in 2007, but it is the only time it has dealt directly with the Legislature. The tribe signed agreements with Gov. Charlie Crist in November 2007 and August 2009, but both were rejected by the Legislature.

The compact also attempts to help the state’s horse and greyhound tracks and jai alai frontons better compete with the Seminoles’ massive gambling operations.

Pari-mutuels will get higher betting limits for poker and extended hours, and separate legislation has been proposed calling for lowering the tax rate on tracks in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Among other changes:

- The Palm Beach County Kennel Club will be allowed to move its racing permit to another location within the county.

- Future legislatures could authorize expanded games for the 19 tracks and frontons outside Miami-Dade and Broward. Those expansions could give each of the tracks and frontons 350 video bingo and historic race machines, as long as the games do not operate like slot machines.

- The agreement also opens the possibility that video bingo and other games could be permitted at the tracks without having to renegotiate the compact. If the Legislature allows horse tracks and other pari-mutuels to operate blackjack and table games after five years, the tribe’s payments to the state would be reduced but continue for slot machines. Those payments would end, however, if the state approves casino-style video lottery terminals or other casino games outside of Miami-Dade and Broward.