Posts Tagged ‘Seminole tribe’

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.