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Seminoles reject House changes, agree to Crist's gambling plan

The Seminole Tribe of Florida voted to approve a gambling compact with the governor Friday at a closed-door meeting of its tribal council in Hollywood, sources close to the negotiations told the Herald/Times.

But in what may be a deal-breaker for lawmakers who must ratify the agreement, the council refused to accept some provisions sought by legislative leaders, the sources said.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the tribe have until Monday to meet the legislatively-set deadline to complete an agreement to authorize slot machines, black jack and banked card games at its tribal casinos.

If Crist signs the agreement, he is expected to call a special session in October to have lawmakers sign-off on the deal, as required by law. Watching closely are the state's horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons which were given unlimited poker games and lower tax rates on slot machines if the gambling compact with the tribe is signed.

The governor wouldn't comment on the tribe's decision Friday.

"Stay tuned for details Monday," he said at a Fort Lauderdale press conference to introduce his Senate appointee George Lemieux. LeMieux, Crist's former chief of staff, served as the governor's lead negotiator with the tribe.

Earlier this week, the governor and the tribe agreed to a plan to pay the state $150 million a year in exchange for operating the games at all seven of its casinos. But that went farther than the guidelines set out by the Legislature, which authorized the card games only at the tribe's Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa and its two other casinos in Broward.

 After weeks of negotiations this summer, the House's lead negotiator, Rep. Bill Galvano, conceded to give the tribe card games at its Immokalee casino but in turn wanted to allow for the prospect of casino games to be offered in Palm Beach County, Jacksonville and North Florida if legislators or voters approved them.

The change was seen as a way to help Palm Beach County Kennel Club, which has long sought slot machines, seek a referendum for slot machines. Senate President Jeff Atwater, a Republican, is from North Palm Beach.

 But Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said the goal was not intended to benefit any individual race track and the change was not sought by Atwater but originated from him and House staff.

 "This isn't about any particular lobbying prowess of any particular group or a heavy-handed Senate president," he said. "It's about maintaining flexibility for any other parimutuel in the state."

 He said it is the House and Senate's position that, "from a tax standpoint, it's better to have a parimutuel be allowed to expand than to get revenue sharing from the tribe."

 Galvano could not be reached late Friday to react the Seminole tribe council decision. He said earlier this week that if the tribe failed to agree to some of the changes legislators sought and came back with a compact on Monday that "deviates significantly from where we intended to go as a Legislature," the legislature would be unlikely to accept it.

"It may be at that point that it goes to the feds [federal government]'' for resolution, he said.