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Senate President Wants Gambling Deal With Seminole Tribe

Seminole Tribe
Seminole Tribe of Florida headquarters

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Tuesday he hopes to reach a new gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, pointing in part to potential revenues for the state.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle this month ruled in favor of the tribe in a legal battle with the state about offering blackjack and other "banked" card games at tribal casinos. Hinkle ruled that the tribe can continue to offer the games, despite the expiration last year of part of a gambling deal known as a "compact."

During a news conference Tuesday, shortly after being sworn in as Senate president, Negron said he supports reaching a new compact with the tribe, while also taking into consideration issues affecting the state's pari-mutuel facilities. Such a compact could involve the tribe making payments to the state for the right to offer certain games at its casinos.

"I'm optimistic that we can work together with our colleagues in the House and ratify a compact, hopefully long term enough so that the state has predictability in revenue and that's also fair to pari-mutuels, who are also involved in gaming throughout Florida," Negron said.

Lawmakers have been unable for years to pass major gambling legislation, as the issue often pits different parts of the gaming industry and also draws opposition from many conservative lawmakers.

But Negron expressed optimism that a deal could be reached and approved during the 2017 legislative session, which starts in March.

"Of course, it's November, there's plenty of time," he said in response to a reporter's question. "We were close to having the outline of a potential agreement last session, so it's not as if we're starting from scratch."

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, said Monday that Hinkle's ruling benefited the tribe and "marginally" weakened the state's negotiating position on a compact. But he said the tribe still has reasons to negotiate a new deal with the state.

"What they need is long-term stability," Corcoran said. "And so yeah, they're going to still come to the table, they're going to still want that long-term stability, and we'll see. We'll have that negotiation and we'll have that work itself through."

He said any gambling legislation that passes the House would have to be "very conservative" and involve a reduction in gaming.

"And it's going to have to give us some long-term stability that the next Legislature, the next Legislature, the next Legislature, the special-interest and the gaming-group guys can't regroup, come back and get what they couldn't get the first year," he said