Posts Tagged ‘Seminole blackjack’

Seminoles Oppose Florida Casino Bill

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

When a bill was introduced that would allow non-tribal casinos in Florida, we knew there would be opposition. There is always opposition to gambling expansion, especially from anti-gambling groups that oppose it for moral or religious reasons. What a lot of people didn’t think about, though, is that the bill, if passed, would be illegal.

More accurately, it would cause the state of Florida to violate current law. Right now, by law, the Seminole tribe has exclusive rights to offer casino games in the state of Florida, thanks to the contract negotiated last year. They have at least five years of exclusivity for offering blackjack and at least 20 years for slot machines.

Despite that, Florida Senators Dennis Jones and Maria Sachs have proposed legislation that would allow five destination resort casinos to be built in Florida. Those casinos would have slots and table games, which would violate the state’s compact with the Seminole tribe. As you can imagine, the Seminoles aren’t too pleased about that.

Gary Bitner, a tribal spokesman, said that “if the legislature wants to allow in new entities, it will have to decide if it is a good tradeoff. Are they going to make enough to make up for the assured payments from the tribe?”

His comment is a thinly-veiled threat (we’ll call it a negotiation) to cut off revenue sharing with the state. As part of the gaming contract, the tribe will share $1 billion in revenue with the state over the next five years. That money goes into the state’s general fund and is already part of the budget on which the state operates. If the state violates the compact by allowing competitors to offer casino games, violating the exclusivity guaranteed to the Seminole, there would be no reason for the tribe to continue sharing revenue with the state.

A similar situation has taken place in New York, where two different tribes have stopped sharing revenue with the state because the state violated the gaming contract. If that happens, the state of Florida would lose the guaranteed revenue from the Seminole’s casinos. There is also the aspect where many want Florida to be seen as a family-friendly tourist destination. A state best known for Disney is kind of the anti-Vegas and many in the state oppose shifting away from that image. With all of those concerns and more, the legislation already seems to have slim hopes of passing.

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.

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.

Crist Game for Negotiating New Seminole Deal

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Florida Governor Charlie Crist twice already has tried to negotiate a deal that would allow the Seminole tribe to legally offer table games at their casinos. In return, the state would get a portion of the revenue. To be more accurate, Crist has twice successfully negotiated those deals with the Seminole, but both times the deals were rejected by the state House of Representatives.

You couldn’t blame Crist for being discouraged. However, on Tuesday the governor told reporters that he would be willing to sit down and negotiate a deal a third time. The Seminole are likely more frustrated than Crist, especially since there are threats of the Feds coming in and shutting down their current blackjack operations. However, that is also motivation for them to get some kind of a deal done. It is hoped that both sides can agree on some sort of deal that would actually pass the legislature.

The governor stated that “we want to do whatever we can to get that money for Florida’s children.” Ah, the children. See, that is another issue that has raised the stakes on getting a deal done. Crist’s education budget includes $433 million in gambling revenue from the Seminole tribe. Without a deal, there is no money and he would have to either cut $433 million from education or take that money from other parts of the state’s budget.

Of course, to play Devil’s advocate, I should point out that Florid voted to create a state lottery in 1986 because it was promised that the revenue would go toward education. Recent studies, however, have found that it does little to affect education.

Aside from working on a new deal with the Seminole, Crist said that he is open to allowing full casinos on the beach in south Florida. Of course, time is a factor in anything that Crist wants to do. He is giving up his governor’s seat this year in an attempt to become a US Senator for the state of Florida. However, he is currently trailing in the polls to primary opponent Marco Rubio, a more conservative Republican. If this takes too long, Crist may be unemployed and spending all of his time on the beach working on that creepy-looking tan.