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Seminoles: Senate Version of Compact, Please

The Florida House and Senate have both drafted legislation that would dramatically alter the games at Seminole casinos. Either the Tribe's profits will take a huge leap back or huge leap forward.

The House version scales back the games that the Tribe can offer, eliminating card games so that the casino's gambling draw would be slots -- and the Seminoles would have to pay the state $100 million annually just for the exclusive privilege to operate slots outside South Florida. (Pari-mutuels here can offer slots too.) That plan gets a big thumbs-down from the Seminoles.

No, they prefer the Senate bill, which would give the Tribe true Vegas-style gambling action: craps and roulette on top of the poker, blackjack, and baccarat games they've been running since signing a compact with Gov. Charlie Crist, even though the Florida Supreme Court threw it out after ruling that the governor didn't have the right to forge that compact without the participation of the Florida Legislature.

"The Tribe has been working for this since 1991, and this is the closest they've ever come," says Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner.

He confirmed the obvious: the Tribe's preference for the Senate version of the compact. And he pointed out that since it passed out of a Senate-regulated industries committee today, it's moving faster.

"We're a long way from the end of the session," says Bitner. "But the best news is that legislators on both sides are now focused on finalizing a deal."

For that bit of good fortune, the Tribe can thank Florida's $6 billion budget hole. The Senate bill would stipulate the Tribe pay $400 million annually to the state, and there are projections that state revenue could reach a billion each year. Even legislators who are anti-gambling may look at those numbers, compare them against the tough cuts in education and services that would otherwise have to be made, and decide that gambling is the lesser of many evils.

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Thomas Francis

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