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Supreme Court Hears Fla. Gaming Case

  Breaking Legal News  -   POSTED: 2008/01/31 17:49

Gov. Charlie Crist exceeded his powers and violated the Florida Constitution when he agreed with the Seminole Indian tribe to expand gambling in the state, an attorney for the Florida House told the state Supreme Court on Wednesday. Crist and the tribe signed an agreement in November that allows for Vegas-style slots and games such as blackjack and baccarat at its seven Florida casinos. Attorney Jon Mills, a former House speaker, said the state's compact with the tribe sets policy and changes existing state laws, which is a power held by the Legislature.

"This compact, as it stands before you, is unconstitutional. It exceeds the governor's power," Mills told the justices. Attorneys for the governor and the tribe said Crist was only acting on existing state and federal law.

"You take the law as you find it, you interpret it to the best of your ability, and you apply it," said Christopher Kise, a lawyer representing the governor. "But that doesn't mean that you rewrote the law."

Mills also said any agreement made by the governor should be approved by the Legislature. Kise, however, says Crist was under a federal order to negotiate with the tribe. Had Crist needed approval from the Legislature to reach a deal with the tribe, those negotiations would not have been in good faith, he said.

The federal law regulating Indian gaming requires any game permitted anywhere in a state must also be allowed by Indian casinos. Broward County pari-mutuels already have Vegas-style slots, and Miami-Dade County voters decided on Tuesday that they want slots at their jai-alai fronton and horse and dog tracks.

But Mills said the compact goes too far in allowing "banked" card games, like blackjack and baccarat, and granting the tribe exclusive rights to those games.

As part of the compact, Florida has already received a $50 million payment from the tribe and is guaranteed $100 million in the first year. The state's share is set to increase to up to $150 million by the third year of the agreement, and after that will be based on revenue. Many expect the state's share to quickly add up to billions of dollars.

If the compact between the state and the tribe is invalidated by the court, the U.S. Department of Interior will give the tribe permission to move forward with the Vegas-style slots, said Barry Richard, an attorney for the tribe. The casinos wouldn't be allowed to add the card games, but then the state wouldn't be entitled to the payments or any regulation of the gaming.

Under the compact, about 800 Vegas-style just began operating Monday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Broward County. The high court has no timetable for a ruling.


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