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State gambling deal with Seminole Tribe in limbo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's deal with the Seminole Tribe to allow blackjack, poker and other card games runs out in July, and efforts to renew the deal may be stymied by new leaders in the state Legislature.

The Seminole Tribe pays the state $12.5 million a month plus a percentage of the profits. The tribe hit its billion dollar guarantee last month, nearly eight months early.

But trouble could be on the horizon. The deal for card games runs out in July, and the new Senate president is raising questions about the deal's future.

"It's important for everyone to understand that if the state decides to go in a different direction than that compact would allow, then we're going to let the members figure that out," Senate President Andy Gardiner said.

Getting a better deal from the tribe could prove elusive. The state would have to grant greater exclusivity, which has value, or expanded locations to new tribal lands, otherwise the same deal for greater payments to the state would likely not pass federal muster.

Any new deal must be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The tribe's lawyer thinks jeopardizing the deal is bad business.

"The only question this year is whether the provision for the card games, like blackjack, will be extended," attorney Barry Richard said. "It just doesn't make any sense not to extend it. It's creating a lot of money for both the state and the tribe."

Gov. Rick Scott floated a renewal deal last May that didn't materialize.

"I'm going to take the right amount of time to make sure I get the right transaction for the state of Florida," Scott said.

While the card compact runs out in July, the slots deal is good for 30 years.

But all of the money from the Seminole Tribe would go away if the state authorizes big-time resort casinos being pushed for South Florida.