BRADENTON, Fla. — The U.S. Department of the Interior on Monday approved Florida’s disputed gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe, despite a pending lawsuit designed to prevent the federal agency from approving the document. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum on Dec. 20 filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the Interior Department from signing the compact and publishing a notice about the approval in the Federal Register. Publishing the notice is the final step in the federal approval process that has yet to be completed. McCollum filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia because the Florida compact, which allows expanded gambling on tribal lands, currently is in litigation before the Florida Supreme Court. The compact, signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist on Nov. 14, would bring $100 million a year or more into state coffers at a time when Florida’s revenues are declining.Sandi Copes, McCollum’s spokesperson, said the Attorney General’s Office filed a new request with the U.S. District Court yesterday.“The request is for a temporary restraining order against the publication of the Florida Indian Gaming Compact and a request for an expedited telephonic hearing,” Copes said.The attorney general is asking a U.S. district judge to prevent the federal agency from publishing its approval of the compact because Florida legislators have filed their own lawsuit claiming that the governor did not have unilateral authority to negotiate the compact.A day after Crist and the Seminoles signed the compact, Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio filed a petition asking the state Supreme Court to invalidate it on the grounds that it should have been approved by the Legislature. The Senate, led by Republican President Ken Pruitt, filed an amicus brief that said “the court must determine whether legislative ratification is necessary to make the compact an enforceable contract.”Florida’s high court has scheduled oral arguments on the matter for Jan. 30.Under terms of the 25-year compact, the tribe would pay Florida $25 million upon its approved by the federal government. The state would be guaranteed annual minimum payments of $100 million. In the third year, the state would begin receiving between 10% and 25% of the tribe’s winnings on a sliding scale, depending on total revenue amounts.In return, the Seminole Tribe would get nearly exclusive rights to operate Class III, or Las Vegas-style slot machines, and card games such as baccarat, chemin de fer, and blackjack, in seven existing gaming facilities on tribal lands.In an amicus brief filed with the Florida Supreme Court, Gulfstream Park Racing Association Inc., a state-licensed horse racing pari-mutuel in Broward County, said the compact permits the Seminole Tribe to offer card games that are currently illegal in Florida. McCollum’s lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court argues that the gaming compact is invalid as a matter of federal law because of the uncertainty related to whether it must be approved by the Legislature.“The issue at stake here is not how the Florida Supreme Court should rule on the matter before it, but rather the right our state has to resolve this matter before an action is forced by the federal government,” McCollum said in a statement.
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