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Florida Supreme Court nixes Indian casino pact

1:13 PM, Jul 3, 2008   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Florida – Gov. Charlie Crist does not have the authority to sign a casino gambling deal with the Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida that violates state law.

The Florida Supreme Court decision, released this morning, is a victory for House Speaker Marco Rubio who challenged Crist's authority to make the deal without legislative approval. The 6-0 ruling knocks out the agreement that called for an immediate $50 million payment to the state and a percentage of future revenues.

"We hold that the Governor does not have the constitutional authority to bind the State to a gaming compact that clearly departs from the State's public policy by legalizing types of gaming that are illegal everywhere else in the state," wrote Justice Raoul Cantero for the court.

The deal struck by Crist would have allowed the tribe to run blackjack and baccarat games, gambling otherwise prohibited by state law.

The court made its decision based on the illegality of those games. It said the decision was narrow to that issue and left undecided whether the governor has the authority to enter into gambling compacts that otherwise comport with state law.

"We conclude that the Governor's execution of a compact authorizing types of gaming that are prohibited under Florida law violates the separation of powers," Cantero wrote. "The Governor has no authority to change or amend state law. Such power falls exclusively to the Legislature. Therefore, we hold that the Governor lacked authority to bind the State to a compact that violates Florida law as this compact does. We need not resolve the broader issue of whether the Governor ever has the authority to execute compacts without either the Legislature's prior authorization or, at least, its subsequent ratification."

"We are studying the decision and not planning any immediate changes," said Gary Bitner, a spokesperson for the Seminole Tribe.  He added, "We are operating under a legal compact approved by the federal government."

Paul Flemming, Florida Capital Bureau and Janie Porter, Tampa Bay's 10 News

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