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Crist sees hope for gambling deal

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (MCT) – Gov. Charlie Crist says there’s still hope for a gambling deal between the state and the Seminoles, despite what a leading Florida legislator recently said.

“To me, it seems so obviously the right thing to do,” Crist said. His reasoning: The tribe would contribute $150 million to education and create 40,000 jobs – in exchange for exclusive rights to blackjack and other table games at its seven Florida casinos.

Last week, House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, told a top federal regulator that the two sides had reached an “impasse.” He asked the National Indian Gaming Commission to shut down the tribe’s gambling operations throughout the state. Legislators said the Seminole games are illegal.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Crist said. “People can ask for things all the time. Even I ask for things.”

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Crist visited the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Oct. 26 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the United South and Eastern Tribes, a nonprofit, inter-tribal organization. Speakers there called Crist “an honorable man and a friend of the tribe,” and greeted him with three standing ovations. He did not address the gambling deal with them.

In 2007, Crist and the tribe came to an agreement that would bring blackjack to the tribe’s casinos in exchange for $150 million in payments, but the courts determined that Crist had no authority to negotiate such a deal. The Legislature has since offered its version to the tribe, who sat down with Crist and made a counter offer in the summer. The Legislature might discuss it at a special session in December.

After addressing the group, Crist spent 10 minutes in a private conversation with Jim Shore, the tribe’s general counsel.

“He’s in charge,” Shore said. “We’re leaving it up to him.”