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Rick Scott and Seminole Tribe begin PR effort for new blackjack deal

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Gov. Rick Scott and Seminole Tribe of Florida representatives on Monday earnestly began a hard sell of a new deal that would let the tribe keep blackjack at their casinos.

Scott met with Tribal Chairman Jim Billie, other tribal leaders and gambling operations executives in South Florida in a meeting that was live-streamed on the Internet.

They’re all trying to convince skeptical lawmakers to approve a new Seminole Compact that’s worth $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but also contains key provisions that critics say expand gambling in Florida, such as allowing the tribe to offer craps and roulette.

The tribe has spent $500 million on its facilities since 2010, when the first compact was entered into that gave the tribe exclusive rights to offer blackjack in the state. The previous Compact guaranteed at least $1 billion over its term, which expired last year.

“What we do know is, this relationship has worked,” Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen said to Scott.

In what came off as a “carrot and stick” approach, Allen explained that approving the compact will push forward a $1.8 billion expansion, including a new 36-floor hotel shaped like a giant guitar, and create more than 19,000 jobs.

In late 2006, the tribe bought Hard Rock International, the 45-year-old rock ‘n’ roll-themed brand of restaurants, hotels and now casinos, which the Seminoles own “100 percent,” Allen said.

The tribe talked of making a “family-friendly” destination resort-casino on its South Florida property, with some high-end suites that would have their own pool, garage and butler service. That project has been on the books since at least last year. Expansion is also planned for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, including adding a music and entertainment venue.

But if the Legislature doesn’t sign off on the deal, Allen and Scott ominously mentioned, up to 3,700 current casino employees could lose their jobs.

A string of employees, some who were moved to tears, spoke to Scott about how the tribe had changed their lives.

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood pit manager Patricia Rodriguez said she has three children and was on the verge of losing her home before she started working for the tribe.

“I was promoted from within,” she said. “I’ve been able to grow here.”

Scott asked how it would affect her personally if the Compact were not approved. “It would affect me immensely. Immensely,” she said.

“That’s what people want to hear, how it affects a person,” Scott said.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee has had two non-voting workshops on the compact; it has not yet been considered by the House this legislative session.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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