Posts Tagged ‘Indian Gaming Regulatory Act’

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.

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).

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?

Seminole Tribe Says Blackjack Legal

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

There has been an ongoing battle between the Seminole tribe and the government over blackjack. The government has said that the tribe needs to end the blackjack operations in their casino. The Seminole tribe, never one to back down to the government, has been dragging their feet. Now, they have a new strategy, which is to point out blackjack operations that the state government is letting exist.

According to the Seminoles, pari-mutuel facilities are currently operating virtual blackjack games, where players sit around a television screen and gamble using electronic cards and chips. Which cards are dealt is determined by a random number generator, just like with online blackjack games.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is a federal law passed in 1988 that, among other things, states that Indian tribes have the right to run any game in their casino that is allowed in the state in which their reservation is located. Therefore, if the state of Florida allows the pari-mutuel facilities to operate virtual blackjack games, it would be legal for the Seminole tribe to offer live table-and-dealer games.

At the tribe’s request, federal gambling regulators with the National Indian Gaming Commission visited Broward County in south Florida yesterday to inspect the virtual blackjack machines in question. One such machine is at Mardi Gras Gaming in Hallandale Beach, where the president, Dan Adkins, says that the game is much different from blackjack and is more similar to slots.

This is only the latest complication in the Seminole’s attempt to run a legal blackjack operation in their casinos. Back in 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a deal with the tribe that legalized their blackjack tables. The state House later voided the deal, which allows the tribe to offer blackjack and gives the state a cut of the revenue, saying that Crist didn’t have the authority to make it. Today a reworked deal to the same effect is expected to be rejected by the House. In the meantime, some members of the House have called for the government to shut down the blackjack tables in the Seminole’s casinos, stating that they are illegal.