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Seminole Tribe to lawmakers: No deal on proposed gaming bills -- so far

CasinoAlthough the Florida House and Senate are miles apart in how far they are willing to go to protect the Seminole Tribe's exclusive access to gambling in Florida, the Tribe announced this week it's not ready to deal on either of them.  Download Seminoleletter228

In a letter hand delivered early Tuesday to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Marcellus Osceola, the chairman of the Tribal Council, said that because both bills require the tribe to increase its revenue share to the state while also shrinking its monopoly over some games, it is likely to violate the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, IGRA.

"Unfortunately, both the Senate and House bills would require dramatic increases in the Tribe's payments without providing increases in the Tribe's exclusivity sufficient to justify those higher payments,'' Osceola wrote. "The Senate bill would require the same higher payments, including a guarantee, that were proposed in the 2015 compact, but would add numerous additional exceptions to the Tribe's exclusivity while broadly expanding gaming in Florida."

He added that while the House bill "is less objectionable in that that it does not propose as many new exceptions to the Tribe's exclusivity and does not broadly expand gaming in the State," it does propose "major increases in the Tribe's payments, including a guarantee, but without providing the necessary additional value from the State."

The conclusion: "...even if the Tribe were to agree to either of the proposed compacts, it is almost certain that the compacts proposed in theses bills would be disapproved by the federal government as violating IGRA,'' Osceola wrote. "Beyond that, we have concluded that neither the Senate or House proposals make economic sense for the Tribe." 

Key to the Tribe's argument is the June 2016 letter to the Tribe from the Obama administration's Department of the Interior, which stated that when lawmakers proposed similar gaming legislation last year -- instead of advancing the compact agreed to with the governor in December 2015 -- the proposals did not satisfy the requirement that the state made a meaningful concession to the Tribe. 

"We are concerned that the bills may violate IGRA's prohibition against taxing tribal gaming revenue and the Department's long-standing revenue sharing policy,'' wrote Paula Hart, director of the Office of Indian Gaming. "We would be hard-pressed to envision a scenario where we could lawfully approve or otherwise allow a compact to go into effect that calls for increased revenue sharing and reductions in existing exclusivity." 

Osceola added that the Tribe is "willing to meet" with legislators and the governor's office "to work out a mutually beneficial agreement."