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Seminoles, Scott Pressure Lawmakers With Casino Expansion Plan

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Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida sought Monday to increase pressure on state lawmakers to approve a gambling deal with a proposed $1.8 billion expansion they said would create thousands of jobs at casinos in Tampa and in South Florida.

Scott and Seminole Chairman James Billie signed the seven-year compact in December, but it has languished in the Legislature's annual session. Scott, Billie and other tribe officials met Monday at the Seminoles' Hollywood headquarters to make a renewed push for approval with the expansion plan as a sweetener.

"I think this is the biggest compact ever signed in this country," Scott said. "I think it's fair to the state of Florida, and it's fair to the Seminoles."

Under the expansion plan, an electric-guitar-shaped, 800-room hotel would rise at the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood along with restaurants, bars, swimming pools and a "music memorabilia experience" for its collection of artists' instruments, clothes and other items. The total number of guestrooms in Hollywood would top 1,200.

At Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, a second 500-room hotel tower would be built, as well as new shops, restaurants and bars, and an enlarged banquet area. It also would get a helipad site

The Seminoles say the expansion at its Tampa and Hollywood locations would create more than 4,800 permanent full-time jobs and more than 14,500 construction jobs. Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen said the tribe needs the certainty of the proposed compact to move forward and noted that the tribe had kept its promises under the previous compact, including paying Florida more than $1 billion.

"The Seminoles have done what we said we would do," Allen said.

The deal would provide Florida $3 billion over seven years in exchange for limits on the tribe's competition and other guarantees, including allowing it to operate table games such as roulette and craps at its seven casinos. The deal also allows for the addition of slot machines at a Palm Beach county dog track, leaves an opening for another casino in Miami-Dade, and would allow existing tracks in that county and in Broward to eventually add blackjack tables.

So far, the compact has not been voted on by any Florida House or Senate committees. Various gambling and anti-gambling interests are likely to suggest changes, which Scott would have to sign for them to become law.

"We need the support of the governor in order to move this. I will tell you, we are optimistic," Allen said.

The governor also heard Monday from several tribal members and casino facility employees who described how the previous compact, approved in 2010, helped them economically and warned of job losses if the new one is not approved, particularly for table games employees. There are about 3,500 such employees now, according to the tribe.

"I have been able to grow here," said Patricia Rodriguez, a table games supervisor. "This agreement not being signed would affect me and the people I work with. It would affect them immensely."

A further complication is a federal lawsuit filed in October by the tribe against the state after a key portion of the previous compact expired. That lawsuit, set for trial in July in Tallahassee, would decide whether the Seminoles can continue to have blackjack tables.