Although meetings have begun to renew a gambling revenue-sharing agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Gov. Rick Scott isn’t at the table.
Neither is Barry Richard, the tribe’s outside counsel in Tallahassee.
“I haven’t been to the latest meetings,” he said. “It’s just been a discussion of principles. There’s been no exchange of language” for a new deal.
“It’s been ‘here’s what we like,’ and ‘here’s what we like,’ and now everyone is cogitating,” Richard said.
But even at this early stage, Richard says there’s little room for the state to negotiate more money out of the arrangement because of strict federal regulations.
Lawmakers – including House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel – have said a proposed statewide gambling overhaul hinges on Scott renegotiating the “exclusivity” provision of the Seminole Compact.
The Compact guarantees income to the state – $1 billion over five years – from the tribe’s gambling revenue in return for the ability to exclusively offer blackjack and other card games at locations including Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
The card-game part of the deal expires in mid-2015.
Under certain scenarios, if the tribe loses exclusive rights to offer Las Vegas-style games through expanded gambling, it can reduce payments or stop paying altogether.
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Indian gambling is governed by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a 1988 law. That law actually provides that tribes can’t pay states more than the cost of regulation, Richard said.
But the U.S. Department of the Interior has interpreted the law to mean that a tribe can give a cut to a state in return for exclusive rights to a game, he added.
That comes with a caveat: The amount a tribe pays has to be a “fair value” for the exclusivity it’s getting.
In other words, federal Indian gambling regulators will reject a deal if they think a tribe is paying more than it can afford. Arguments to the contrary aren’t received well.
“The message has been, ‘don’t push us on this,’” Richard said.
As to talks so far, he couldn’t share any hard numbers.
“I think when we really get involved in details, I’ll sit in,” Richard said.