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The Associated Press April 7, 2010, 3:53PM ET

Fla. gov sees bill ready for signature next week

An agreement with the Florida Seminole Indian Tribe that guarantees hundreds of millions of dollars for the state in the next few years could be signed by early next week, Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday.

The tribal council voted to approve the compact Wednesday.

"It means stability for both sides," Seminole Tribe Chairman Mitchell Cypress said. "We can all have confidence in the future."

Crist said he plans to monitor a select House committee meeting Thursday that is resolving final details on the proposed 20-year compact that could bring Florida some $1.3 billion in the next five years.

"The goal is to get it passed as soon as possible," Crist said Wednesday. "I plan to be at that meeting and encourage them some more."

The House has been particularly reluctant to sign off on earlier proposals, but Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, believes the measure will succeed this year. Galvano, who chairs the House Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review, was with Crist and tribal leaders on Tuesday to announce details of the agreement.

It would give the tribe exclusive operation of blackjack at three casinos in Broward County and casinos in Immokalee and Tampa. All seven tribe casinos in Florida would continue to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines.

"It's pretty exciting stuff," said Crist, who has twice before signed a compact with the tribe only to see it derailed once by the state Supreme Court and a second time by the Legislature.

"It's not been easy," Crist said. "Many things in life that are not easy certainly are worth pursuing. This really bodes well for the future of Florida."

Even after it is signed by Crist, the compact must be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

By June 30, the tribe will have some $288 million in an escrow account that could be put immediately into state coffers. Crist said he would like lawmakers to spend it on education.

The tribe's contributions would total $1 billion in the first five years in addition to $288 million that has been frozen in escrow since Crist's aborted deal with the Seminoles in 2007.

The Seminoles were the first U.S. tribe to offer high-stakes gambling when they opened a bingo hall in 1979. The tribe completed its $965 million purchase of the Hard Rock cafes, hotels, casinos and music memorabilia from London-based Rank Group PLC in March 2007. They retained the Hard Rock name at casinos in Hollywood and Tampa.

Now, it appears, they finally have their deal with the state.

"Like the governor said, it's been a long journey," tribal chairman Mitchell Cypress said.

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