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Feds order Crist to finish gaming negotiations with tribe

Federal officials have given Gov. Charlie Crist an ultimatum: complete negotiations within 60 days with the Seminole Indian tribe to allow Las Vegas-style slot machines in their casinos -- or the federal government will do it for him.

The deadline was ordered by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in a letter dated June 22 but made public today. Crist said Wednesday he has not been briefed on the status of the talks and could not comment. Kempthorne commended the governor's staff for its commitment to talks with the tribe but, after six months of intermittant talks, he said time is running out.

"My goal is for the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe to reach an agreement," Kempthorne wrote, noting that if that fails the federal government will "impose procedures."

"If the parties not not reach an agreement on all or most of the outstanding issues within the next 60 days, I will review my options at that time."

Crist renewed negotiations in January, after they broke down between former Gov. Jeb Bush and the tribe last year. Crist who said he opposes the expansion of gambling said he supports giving the Seminoles Class III slot machines as long as it will result in additional revenue to the state.

"The tribe's preference would be to have a compact with the state," said Seminole attorney Barry Richard. "I think we could reach an agreement in less than 60 days. I think we could do it in one day, if we could just sit down and hammer out an agreement."

But he said the tribe has continued to press forward with other options, including a lawsuit, because the state has failed to reach an agreement with the tribe in the past. The tribe has met with the governor once so far, he said.

"It's easy for this to keep going to the back burner, otherwise," he said. Here's the letter, obtained by the Herald: Download dept. of interior letter.jpg One oddity, Kempthorne's name is spelled wrong!