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Public supports keeping gambling pact, Seminole Tribe says

Staff write

Floridians are satisfied with the state's gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, according to a poll commissioned by the tribe.

The poll of 600 Floridians last week indicated that, by 61 percent to 26 percent, they favor renewing an agreement that gives the Seminoles exclusive rights to blackjack and other table games — while keeping out-of-state casino companies out.

The numbers also show Floridians have a favorable impression of the Seminoles by 56 percent to 8 percent, pollster Neil Newhouse, co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies in Alexandria, Va., said Monday.

"It shows a preference for the status quo," Newhouse said.

The percentages total less than 100 because some people declined to answer or had no opinion. The poll has a 95 percent probability of having a margin of error within 4 points, Newhouse said.

Pollsters provided subjects with a quick paragraph explaining situations before asking their opinions.

"When we asked whether it should be renewed, we gave an argument on either side," Newhouse said. "And hopefully, we asked it as flat [neutral] as you can."

The Seminoles' agreement for blackjack in Florida expires July 31 and allows them to offer the games in three Broward County casinos, as well as in Tampa and in Immokalee. South Florida's horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons have slots, but no blackjack.

Gov. Rick Scott negotiates the agreement, called a compact, then the legislature and the National Indian Gaming Council must approve it. Meanwhile, Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, has filed a bill that would bring two resort-style casinos to South Florida and slots to Palm Beach County.

The tribe is paying about $1 billion for five years and met with South Florida SunSentinel editorial board members on Monday to argue that the agreement should continue. They have met with editorial boards in Tampa, Bradenton and Orlando already, distributing booklets titled "The Seminole Compact: A Partnership That Works."

"Not only have we met our projections about the revenues we would produce for the state, we have exceeded them," said CEO Jim Allen.

Their payments to the state are not regarded as a tax, but the tribe does pay more if it surpasses revenue projections. The tribe, which made about $2.2 billion last year, sent the state an additional $21.7 million last year, for a total of $237 million.

On Monday, they also showed projections for the next 15 years and plans to build a second hotel in Hollywood and expand their one in Tampa. The projections have the Seminoles averaging about $400 million in payments between now and 2030.

The tribe notes it has the support of Disney for extending the compact — "strange bedfellows," Allen said — and the Seminoles are airing ads featuring Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Wilson and Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association President Carol Dover, who urges the state to extend the table games portion.

The Seminoles say that extending the blackjack portion saves more than 3,000 jobs and the resulting hotel expansion would create more than 15,000.

The Associated Press reported last year that Scott and the tribe were close to proposing a seven-year compact extension to the Florida legislature for approval, but Scott backed off when it appeared there wasn't enough legislative support.

To see the poll questions, go to SeminoleCompact.com.

Nsortal@SouthFlorida.com

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