Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Crist’

Crist Signs Seminole Blackjack Deal

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Well, it took a few more days than I expected, but Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed the $1 billion gambling bill into law this afternoon. Instead of calling a news conference like usual, Crist quietly signed the legislation with only Representative Bill Galvano and Senator Dennis Jones, the two main sponsors of the bill, as witnesses of his signature. The bill passed the House last Tuesday and has been awaiting Crist’s signature since then.

It is likely that Crist decided to sign the bill quietly because gambling is a divisive and controversial issue, especially among conservatives. The Republican Governor is already trailing badly in the polls to challenger Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. It is thought that the only chance Crist has is to run as an Independent candidate. Another divisive issue is not exactly what Crist wants at this point.

The $1 billion gambling deal gives the Seminole tribe exclusive rights to offer blackjack in 5 of their 7 casinos in the state of Florida. In addition, the bill finally brings the state the $435 million that Crist had already put in the education budget, meaning that money he had already spent finally exists.

The main opponents of the gambling deal were the state pari-mutuels, who were already at a competitive disadvantage to the Seminole tribe’s casinos. Now that the Seminole have exclusive rights to blackjack, the pari-mutuels worry about a loss of business leading to job cuts and eventually closures. In an effort to offset that, the bill also increases the hours the pari-mutuels can remain open and lowers their tax rate.

Next week, Governor Crist plans to do a ceremonial bill signing on a Seminole reservation with their tribal members. Now that the bill has passed the Florida legislature and been signed by the governor, the only step that remains is for it to be approved by the federal Department of the Interior, who must approve all compacts involving Native American tribes.

Florida House Approves Seminole Blackjack Deal

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The blackjack deal with the Seminole tribe seems like it’s finally going to happen. Twice in the past Florida Governor Charlie Crist negotiated a deal with the Seminole tribe allowing them to operate blackjack tables at their tribal casinos in exchange for fees paid to the state government. Both times, state lawmakers rejected the deals.

This time, the lawmakers were directly involved in the negotiations for the first time. As a result, they worked out a deal that had already passed the state Senate and yesterday, the state House followed suit. On Monday, the House approved the gambling deal by a 74-39 vote, signaling what will be the end to a laborious process that has been ongoing since 2007. Barring a shocking turn of events, the gambling legislation will become state law this year and will bring much-needed money to the state of Florida.

The state House had long been thought to be the biggest obstacle in the way of the Seminole’s quest to offer legal blackjack tables, as it had shown itself to be against gambling before. There are two more steps this bill needs to take before it becomes official. The first is that it needs to be signed into law by Crist. Since he has been a proponent of this and similar plans since 2007, it is expected that he will sign the bill this week. The other step is that, like all compacts with Native American tribes, the bill needs to be approved by the federal Department of the Interior.

As part of the $1 billion deal, $435 million will be placed into the state budget’s general revenue fund. That money will then be used for education, since Crist had already allocated that money for the education budget, despite not actually having the money yet. The gambling legislation will allow the Seminole tribe to offer blackjack tables for five years. After that time, a new contract may be negotiated.

The deal gives the Seminole tribe exclusive rights to offer blackjack, meaning that when it comes to the most popular table game in the world, they will have no competition. The state’s pari-mutuels will certainly be hurt by that, but as a concession they will receive expanded hours, higher stakes in the poker rooms, and a tax break on slot profits.

Senate Approves Seminole Blackjack Deal

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Are you tired of the constant updates on the Seminole tribe’s quest for legal blackjack? Too bad! Okay, to be honest, I’m a little tired of it, too, so hopefully it will all be resolved soon. The gambling deal has cleared one more hurdle and is closer to being law of the land.

The Florida Senate approved the $1.3 billion blackjack deal with the Seminole tribe that would give them exclusive rights to offer table games and slots in their tribal casinos. The bill passed the Senate by a 29-9 vote and will next have to be approved by the state House. The bill passed with little debate on the Senate floor, likely because the deal had been discussed so much already, there was little left to say.

If the gambling legislation passes the House, it would then have to be signed by Governor Charlie Crist, which is expected, and then approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. I haven’t heard anyone talk about the Interior Department’s stance on the deal and whether they are expected to approve it, but since no one is mentioning it, I hope that is because it’s not thought to be an issue.

Strangely enough, while other issues have been hotly debated in the press and around water coolers, the Florida public seems to be rather apathetic about this deal. Though there are some outspoken proponents and a few outspoken opponents, for the most part Floridians don’t seem to care.

Approval of the deal would be good for Crist, who made the unwise decision of including $433 million from this deal in his education budget, despite the fact that the deal had not been approved and thus, the money didn’t exist. Even if support or opposition ramps up for the bill, it is unlikely that it would affect Crist’s decision, seeing as today he vetoed an education reform bill backed by most conservatives. Crist, rather than running for reelection as governor, is running for the U.S. Senate in 2010, but is badly trailing Marco Rubio in the Republican primary polls, indicating that Crist may be in the last few months of his employment by the state of Florida.

Decisions by both the state House and by Governor Crist may be reached as soon as next week. Don’t worry; I’ll update you when it happens.

Seminole Tribal Council Approves Blackjack Deal

Monday, April 12th, 2010

In the constantly updating story on the Seminole blackjack negotiations in the state of Florida, there is yet more news. Last Wednesday, the Seminole tribal council voted to approve the deal offered by state lawmakers and brokered by the tribe’s lawyer.

As I reported earlier, since the deal did not give blackjack rights to all of the Seminole’s casinos, it had to be approved by the council, which includes representatives from every reservation. Since the council has approved the deal, it has cleared another hurdle.

Next the gambling deal has to pass the state legislature, be signed into law by Governor Charlie Crist, and be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Due to his numerous attempts to pass similar deals, Crist’s signature is all but guaranteed. The deal will bring in $1.3 billion over the next 5 years and will allow Vegas-style slots and table games, including blackjack, in 4 of the Seminole’s 7 casinos.

There is opposition to the deal, with the most vocal opponents being the state’s pari-mutuels, who receive expanded hours of operation but are not allowed to carry slots, blackjack or any table games. The pari-mutuels believe that giving exclusivity to the Seminole casinos will cause a drop in their revenue, leading to layoffs and perhaps even going out of business. Their revenues declined sharply when the Seminole casinos were given the ability to offer slots. With blackjack possibly on its way as well, the pari-mutuel’s days could be numbered.

Opposition to Florida’s Gambling Expansion

Friday, April 9th, 2010

A lot of people, including other blackjack blogs, don’t seem to understand the complexities of the issue of expanded gambling in the state of Florida. As you know, the Seminole tribe has been in negotiations with state lawmakers for a deal that would give them exclusive rights to offer blackjack in their tribal casinos. There is, however, opposition to this deal from third parties. Many gambling writers choose to see only two groups of opposition, the “self-righteous and hypocritical Bible-thumpers” and the “greedy pari-mutuels who don’t want competition.”

Both of those portrayals are inaccurate and they also don’t show other very legitimate reasons for opposing the deal currently being discussed. I will attempt to set the record straight here.

First of all, let me say that as a blackjack player and writer, I am for allowing blackjack in the state of Florida, and every state for that matter. However, just because you support something doesn’t mean you should turn a blind eye to all of the issues surrounding it.

Right now, a lot of people are portraying those pari-mutuels as villains who want to ensure that they have no competition, but that portrayal is so wrong it’s laughable. They say that the dog and horse tracks want to be assured that they’re the only gambling game in town and they want to keep the Seminole tribe from competing with them. In truth, the opposite is true. The Seminole tribe is trying to squash competition and make sure that they’re the only game in town. In fact, that is one of their demands for the contract.

You see, if the current deal is accepted by all sides, the Seminole tribe will have exclusive rights to offer blackjack. That means that pari-mutuels cannot offer the game and it means that if I want to open up my own casino, I can’t offer blackjack, either. That goes against the American ideals of a free market and competition. The last time I checked, Florida was a free state in the free country of America, so how can the state legislature sign a contract stating that one group can provide a service that no one else can?

To be honest, it’s unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution provides for equal protection and equal freedom for everyone and expressly prohibits giving preferential treatment to any specific groups. The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act states that native tribes may offer any game that is allowed in the state in which they are located. However, blackjack not only is not currently allowed in Florida, but if the current contract is accepted by lawmakers, it would be illegal for anyone other than the Seminoles to provide the game. Therefore, the deal is in clear violation of not only the Constitution, but also the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act as well. The pari-mutuels are not being greedy by trying to avoid competition; they only want to ensure that there is competition and a free, legal market for blackjack.

Religious groups and family organizations are also against the deal, not wanting blackjack to be allowed in the state at all. Some say that they are being too controlling in thinking that they know what’s best for everyone, and that’s probably true. They feel that gambling is immoral and leads to problems in society and for that reason are against it. I think they are wrong, but I try not to judge the beliefs of others. However, there is also this idea that they’re hypocrites because Florida already has gambling in horse and dog tracks (and the current Seminole casinos). That is not accurate, though, because those same groups were also against that gambling and already fought the battle against allowing betting in Florida. They lost and will probably lose this time as well.

There is another misconception that I would like to clear up that is important and that is the money. I’ve heard countless proponents of the deal say that we need to allow blackjack in the Seminole casinos for the children! You see, the money is supposed to go to education and if we don’t get that money, there will be a closing of schools and laying off of teachers and our children will suffer. That, again, is not entirely accurate.

It sounds a little too familiar to me. You see, in 1988, lawmakers in Florida wanted to create a state lottery and the voters were skeptical. Those voters were won over, though, when told that money raised by the Lotto would fund education. Since it was for a good cause, the people voted to allow the lottery. Since then, the Florida Lottery has raised approximately $14 billion for education, approximately 5% of the budget. Here’s the catch, though: In 1989, the state eliminated approximately 5% of the education budget because money from the lottery was going to be used for that. See how that works? They raised 5% from one area and cut 5% from another. That means the net result was zero. The lottery may technically be funding education, but because a proportionate amount that had been used on education is now used for other things, there is not any more money going to education.

Will the same thing happen with blackjack money? I think it already has. If you look at Governor Charlie Crist’s education budget, there is $433 million in imaginary money that comes from the deal with the Seminole tribe that doesn’t exist. He is spending $433 million in money that he doesn’t have on education. What do you want to bet that there is $433 million in funds that had been used for education that have been diverted elsewhere? The money has to be there somewhere, because Florida is a balanced-budget state.

It is likely that the current deal, or something close to it, will pass. When it does, I’m not confident that there will be an increase in spending for the Department of Education. In fact, I don’t think there needs to be more spending on education. I think the spending simply needs to be done more wisely (but that’s a topic for another time).

Whatever happens, though, let’s put away the rhetoric and stop portraying those who think differently as villains. There are always two sides to a story and things aren’t always as they appear.

Seminoles Agree to Blackjack Deal?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

If you’ve been following blackjack news, then you probably know that for some time the Seminole tribe of Florida has been trying to work out a deal in that state to allow blackjack tables at their casinos. On two separate occasions, the tribe reached an agreement with Governor Charlie Crist, but on both occasions the state House rejected the deals, bringing the negotiations back to square one.

This year, for the first time the state lawmakers have been directly involved in the negotiations with the tribe. There have been several points of contention during the negotiation, but the main thing is that the Seminole always wanted exclusive rights to offer blackjack and other table games and it seems like they have finally struck a deal that includes that and still keeps the state lawmakers happy.

Representative Bill Galvano, a Republican representing Bradenton, has been the lead negotiator in the process and he announced on Friday that he had reached a deal with the Seminole tribe. That deal gives the Seminole tribe exclusive rights to blackjack tables in their two casinos in Broward County as well as in their casinos in Tampa and Immokalee. Their other casinos would continue to offer slot machines only. In exchange, the state of Florida will make $1.5 billion in the deal over five years. To balance out the advantage of that exclusivity, the pari-mutuels in the state will be given extended hours of operation, higher betting limits and additional bingo tables.

This is far from a done deal, though. As I reported earlier, though, because this deal doesn’t include every Seminole casino (they own 7 Hard Rock and Coconut Creek casinos in the state of Florida), it will have to be approved by the Seminole tribal council, which includes representatives from every reservation in the tribe. In addition, the bill would have to be approved by the state House and Senate and then signed by Governor Crist. It is believed that Crist is onboard, since he has twice tried to pass a similar agreement. The major question is whether it will get through the full Florida legislature.

Seminole Tribe (again) Close to Blackjack Deal

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

I hope you’re not sick of hearing about the Seminole tribe’s fight for legal blackjack tables in Florida. To be honest, I’m a little sick of writing about it, but it’s kind of a big deal when it comes to blackjack legislation, so I’ll write about it whenever there’s something new.

The Cliff’s Notes version of what has happened so far is that on two different occasions Florida Governor Charlie Crist has successfully negotiated a deal with the Seminole tribe that allows them to offer blackjack in their casinos. In return, the state of Florida gets a cut. Both times the state House nixed the deal. Now there are yet again negotiations in progress and inside sources say both sides are close to reaching an agreement, this time with Florida’s Congress members involved in the process.

It’s worth noting that the state of Florida cannot tax the Seminole tribe on their casinos or on anything for that matter, since the reservations are sovereign territory. They can, however, include payments in the contracts that allow them to have certain games. The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act states that tribes can only offer games that the state in which they are located allows. For that reason, for the Seminole to provide blackjack, the state of Florida has to allow it.

Sources close to the negotiation say that the new deal, if signed, would likely allow blackjack in five of the tribe’s seven Florida casinos. To offset the advantage that gives those casinos over their main competitors, the pari-mutuels, the dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons would receive expanded hours of operation, higher betting limits and a lower tax rate. The deal would be good for five years and would need to be renegotiated after that. Both sides seem to have agreed on a figure of $150 million per year in payments from the Seminole tribe to the state.

There are a couple issues, however, that need to be resolved. One is that, according to a lawyer for the tribe, if the legislation only allowed five of their casinos to have blackjack and not all seven, they would need the approval from the Seminole tribal council, which includes representatives from every reservation.

The other issue is one of exclusivity. The Seminole tribe wants to be the only ones in the state who are allowed to carry blackjack and slot machines. The deal being discussed would allow the pari-mutuels to offer video bingo and instant historic racing machines. The tribe wants a clear definition of what would and would not be allowed in the pari-mutuels, to ensure that their virtual games are not too much like slots.

It is reported that the deal would provide approximately $433 million to Florida’s budget, which is important because Governor Crist has already included that money, which the state does not yet have, in his education budget.

Players Suing Over Blackjack Losses

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Some people are just sore losers. Unidentified players at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, Florida are suing in an attempt to recoup their losses. The players lost money while playing blackjack but now are basically asking the court to give them a refund.

The Hard Rock Casino is owned by the Seminole tribe and thus is part of sovereign Seminole territory. For that reason, the tribe is not being sued. Federal law does not permit lawsuits against Native American tribes unless the tribe consents to be a party in the proceedings. For that reason, the players, who are being represented by attorney Mike Trentalange, are suing the companies that provide the blackjack tables to the casino. Hey, they have to sue someone, right?

The basis of the suit is this: Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a deal last year that legalized blackjack and other table games in exchange for the state receiving a cut of the profits. The state House later rejected the deal and another subsequent deal made by Crist. Trentalange argues that because there is no deal in place, the blackjack tables at the casino are illegal. If the games are illegal then the casino’s winnings are the result of illegal gambling and his clients have a right to have their money refunded.

This isn’t the first time someone has sued a casino in an attempt to recoup their losses. Previously I wrote about a man who is suing a casino for allegedly loaning him money while he was intoxicated, with the basis of the suit being that the contract of the loan is null and void because the player did not have the mental capacity to enter into an agreement with the casino.

In this case, the contention is that if the blackjack tables are illegal then the casino taking the players’ money is no different than a street hustler conning them out of cash. That argument is certainly not a strong one, but it also has another problem: According to the Seminole tribe, their blackjack tables are perfectly legal.

Legal motions that have attempted to put a stop to blackjack at the Seminole’s casinos have been denied by the courts. The tribe also states that since the game of blackjack was included in the Federal Register in 2008, that makes the tables legal. In addition, the tribe has recently pointed out that pari-mutuels in the state are permitted by the state to hold virtual blackjack games. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act states that the tribes are permitted to offer any game that is allowed within the state in which their territory resides.

And even if it is ruled that the blackjack games are illegal the case seems shaky because it’s not the Seminole tribe or the casino that is being sued. Instead, they’re suing third parties that did nothing more than provide the games for the casino.

Oh, and one more thing: According to the Seminole tribe, the court set to hear this case does not have the legal authority to determine whether the blackjack games are illegal. They say that only the federal government has that authority. This should definitely be an interesting court case (if it ever goes that far).

Florida Introduces Online Gambling Bill

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

The U.S. state of Florida now has a bill in the House that would legalize and heavily regulate online gambling. Representative Joseph Abruzzo introduced the bill called the Internet Poker Consumer Protection and Revenue Generation Act of 2010. Despite “poker” being in the name, the bill would legalize all online casino games, including blackjack.

Some lawmakers in Florida have been trying to get blackjack approved in Florida casinos for a while. Governor Charlie Crist has twice reached a deal with the Seminole tribe to allow legal blackjack tables in their tribal casinos. However, both times the state House has rejected the deals. There are also plans to open up resort casinos in the state, though there is no bill yet for that. In the meantime, the idea of playing blackjack online in Florida has been overlooked.

There is no current law in Florida that makes online gambling either legal or illegal. In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed as part of the SAFE Port Act. Though that law doesn’t make online gambling illegal, it does allow for the government to seize funds and punish financial institutions that are used for “illegal” online gambling, though it does not define what gambling is illegal. For that reason, many financial institutions, including credit card companies Visa and Mastercard, can no longer be used for online gambling.

If Abruzzo’s bill passes and is signed into law, online gambling would be clearly made legal in the state of Florida and the government would regulate and tax the industry. Part of the terms for operating an online casino used by Floridians would be to pay a $500,000 application fee and a $1,000 annual licensing fee, in addition to being heavily taxed (the proposal is 20% of the revenue). The state government will place limits on the time you can spend gambling and amount that can be gambled. In addition, they will certify that all software used is safe and fair for the players.

UIGEA is currently being challenged at the federal level. Separate bills in the U.S. House and Senate propose to repeal the law, though neither has been discussed on the floor yet. Even if the UIGEA is not repealed, though, the law allows for states to legalize and regulate online gambling within their own borders.

Is Virtual Blackjack Blackjack?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Blackjack is a pretty basic card game that comes in many forms. The earliest and most obvious form of blackjack is played at a table in a brick and mortar casino. The dealer gives you cards and you wager, win and lose chips on each hand. Some casinos have gone to chipless electronic blackjack tables, where you are still dealt physical cards but instead of using chips, you place bets on a touch screen and have money automatically credited to or subtracted from your account. Online blackjack is offered at web-based casinos, where everything is done on the computer and instead of cards being shuffled, the outcome is controlled by a random number generator. You can also play mobile blackjack on your cell phone.

And then there’s virtual blackjack, which is causing a lot of controversy in the state of Florida. In the Sunshine State, the Seminole tribe wants to operate blackjack tables at their casinos and are already doing so. An agreement with the state Congress has been scrapped, which some say makes their blackjack tables illegal. Some lawmakers in the state want those tables shut down.

In response, the Seminole tribe has said that pari-mutuels in the state are offering virtual blackjack. According to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, Indian tribes have the right to run any game in their casinos that is allowed in the state in which their casinos reside. Therefore, if Florida’s government allows the pari-mutuels to offer blackjack, then they must let the Seminole do the same.

The problem is that those pari-mutuels claim that their “virtual blackjack” games aren’t really blackjack. Those virtual blackjack games have been inspected and licensed by the government, so the only way the Seminole could be prevented from having blackjack is if the courts buy the “this isn’t really blackjack” argument.

According to the pari-mutuels, the games are not really blackjack because instead of the outcome being determined by a shuffling of cards, it is controlled by a random number generator. For that reason, according to them, they are more like slots. However, they are wrong. First of all, online blackjack also uses a random number generator.

Secondly, the method by which the game is randomized makes no difference. Whether it’s by a computer program, a dealer shuffling by hand, or an automatic shuffling machine, you get the same outcome: cards randomly dealt to you. Unlike slots, whether you win or lose isn’t based solely on that outcome. You have to make decisions. You can decide to hit, stand, double, split and more and those decisions, combined with the random outcome of the cards you are dealt, determine whether you win or lose. With slot machines, you win or lose based on the random spinning of the reels. That is not the same at all.

So what do you think? Is it still blackjack even if it’s a computer program that determines what cards you are dealt?