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Forecast uncertain for gaming revenue as Seminole compact still unresolved

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The state Revenue Estimating Conference, a panel of economists gathered to discuss revenue levels expected to flow into state coffers from gaming proceeds Wednesday afternoon, including from the banked card games and Las Vegas-style slots the Seminole Tribe of Florida operate under an exclusive compact with the state.

The consensus, now that the deal has expired: no one is really sure.

The economists, like the rest of state government, are navigating unchartered territory.

Since the sovereign tribe’s compact with the state expired over the summer and a 90-day grace period lapsed in October, the Seminoles have defied Gov. Rick Scott‘s insistence they no longer have the right to operate under the compact’s terms.

The tribe, for their part, has sued the state, claiming the state violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and voided the compact by not agreeing to mediation to adjust the deal as it was set to expire.

One economist said there is “a great deal of uncertainty” as to how the arrangement will work out in terms of revenue for the state. Another said there is a “mystic” aspect to it.

In the meantime, the Seminoles have continued paying $19.5 million each month to the state in compliance with the compact’s terms, though the compact no longer has the force of law.

Economists said they predict those payments will stop at some point in the coming year, as will the gaming activities that bring in those dollars.

That however is far from certain. Legal wrangling continues as does, presumably, the negotiation process with the tribe.

Scott has been largely silent on the issue, perhaps not wanting to tip his cards.

Seminole gaming has accounted for more than $1 billion in state revenues since the current compact was inked in 2010 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

“The Tribe does not plan to remove the banked card games today,” said a spokesman for the tribe when the compact expired. “The Tribe believes the games have been authorized for the reasons stated in [the aforementioned lawsuit], and it is seeking court guidance while the games continue.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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