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Seminoles still paying state blackjack money—for now

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Seminole Tribe of Florida spokesman Thursday declined comment on whether the tribe would stop payment to the state from its blackjack revenue.

A source close to the tribe told FloridaPolitics.com on Wednesday that it’s considering not paying “one more dollar” to the state treasury without a new gambling agreement. According to a federal judge, it doesn’t have to.

Coincidentally, Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, the tribe’s general counsel Jim Shore and others were in Tallahassee Monday for meetings, including a sit-down with Gov. Rick Scott.

Spokesman Gary Bitner said the meeting was “part of their ongoing effort and continuing desire to finalize a new gaming compact with the state of Florida.”

“As further evidence of its positive approach, the Tribe is continuing to make monthly payments to the state that will total $306 million this year,” he said.

When asked whether those payments would end if no new agreement is approved this year, Bitner said, “As has been noted many times, it is the Tribe’s policy to not discuss the specific content of its compact negotiations with the state.”

A representative for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling in the state, has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The state and tribe struck a long-term deal—the 2010 Seminole Compact—that included a provision, expired last year, giving the Seminoles exclusive rights to offer blackjack in return for revenue share to the state. That meant more than $200 million per year.

Scott and tribal representatives agreed on a new deal for continued rights to blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years.

That agreement couldn’t get to either floor for a vote last Legislative Session. It contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette—that is, more games. And lawmakers with dog and horse tracks in their districts tacked on legislation that would have expanded gambling at those facilities.

Since then, the Seminoles won a federal case allowing the tribe to offer blackjack and other “banked card games” at the Tampa Hard Rock and other casinos. And it allows them to not pay the state through 2030, the end of the original compact.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron have recently said they support an attempt to approve the renewed deal again in the 2017 Legislative Session.

But while Negron supports county initiatives to allow slot machines, for example, Corcoran said any package up this year has to mean “a reduction in gambling.”

On Tuesday, Scott told reporters he’ll “be looking at what we do next” when asked about opening the most recent proposed compact up for more changes.

“The Legislature didn’t pass it last year,” Scott said. “So we’ll continue to work with legislators, and see what their interests are.”

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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