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Seminoles Playing The Agreement Card In Florida Gambling Battle

Gaming analysts already had predicted that the Seminole Indian tribe would object to any form of gambling expansion in the Sunshine State. On Thursday, the tribe finally came out formally against a plan that would allow three casino resorts in South Florida.

The tribe signed a compact with the state last year that allows them to operate blackjack and baccarat games at five of their seven Florida casinos. That agreement states that if lawmakers expand gambling in Florida for the first five years of the compact, the compact would be voided.

If the current group of pro-gambling lawmakers get their way, expansion will be coming, possibly by the end of the year. The legislators have weighed their options, and feel that destination casino resorts could bring in billions of dollars to a state that has had to cut many programs due to budget shortcomings.

The tribe spent years trying to get gambling expansion in Florida. For decades, they were turned away by lawmakers, but former Governor Charlie Crist became an ally of the Seminoles, and signed a compact several years ago. That compact was voided by legislators, who later negotiated their own agreement with the tribe.

On Thursday, the Seminoles urged lawmakers to uphold their end of the agreement signed last year. If the legislators ignore the tribe's request, it is likely that lawyers for the tribe would try to get the compact voided. That legal battle could play out over years, and likely would end up in the Supreme Court.

Since new Governor Rick Scott has taken over in Florida, there has been a strong push to add casino resorts in South Florida. A short time after he was elected, Scott was on Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson's private jet. The two spoke of how Florida could become the Las Vegas of the East Coast if lawmakers authorized table games and other forms of Vegas-style gaming.

It is expected that legislators will produce a bill by the end of the year that will authorize three destination casino resorts. Las Vegas Sands, Genting, and Wynn Resorts appear to be the front runners for the gaming licenses should the bill pass. The Seminoles, state pari-mutuels, and religious groups are all lobbying to defeat the gaming expansion legislation.

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