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Seminoles and Scott Strike Black Jack Deal But Not Everyone Is Happy

Sen. Bradley wants to renew a gambling contract with the state and Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Sen. Bradley wants to renew a gambling contract with the state and Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Sen. Bradley wants to renew a gambling contract with the state and Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have reached a settlement deal over the tribe’s ability to offer games like black jack in its casinos.

The tribe will be allowed to continue offering banked card games like black jack until the year 2030. And it will share part of its revenue from the games with the state. Governor Rick Scott says it’s a good deal for Florida.

"If you look at it, we settled the lawsuit. If you can do that on good terms I think that’s always a good idea and it doesn’t expand gaming which I think is also positive,” Scott said.

Part of the agreement requires the state to crack down on games currently operated at pari-mutuels, called designated player games. They largely mimic banked card games. The designated player games were at the center of the lawsuit Scott and the tribe have just settled. The tribe’s lawyer, Barry Richard told the Florida Channel last year that the games violated the tribe’s exclusivity agreement.

“The tribe is paying the state of Florida literally billions of dollars for the right to have exclusivity in offering banked card games and the question is, is it okay for the state to let the parimutuels do what I think any rational person would say circumvents that and takes undue advantage of the tribe, which is setting up a game which is the same thing. They’re just having this group of squirrely rules to pretend that it’s something different,” Richard said.

A Tallahassee District Court agreed with the tribe and the Seminoles continued offering the games. They also continued sending money to the state as if the previous deal were still in place. Florida’s Chief Economist, Amy Baker, says they state’s lawyers considered those payments improper.

“And so we effectively put it in a reserve that the state elected as our way of dealing with that issue. So we go through this complicated process to split out the payment that we receive each month and put an amount into reserve,” Baker said.

That money was a driving factor for lawmakers in the Senate last legislative session as they pushed to pass a new gambling agreement with the Tribe. Senate President Joe Negron spoke about the issue early in the year.

“We have money available that could be utilized for tax cuts. It could be put in our rainy day fund, it could be used to fund national merit scholarships,” Negron said.

But an attempt at a gambling overhaul failed and the money remained in what is essentially an escrow account—that is until now. Under the new deal Scott struck the state would be free to use the approximately $200-million accrued. It will also continue getting payments from the tribe. The settlement does not require the approval of the legislature, but some lawmakers have already raised concerns about the move. Senator Bill Galvano, who led his chamber’s gambling discussions last session, told the News Service of Florida he thinks the settlement will make it hard to move forward with further gambling agreements with the tribe. But Scott doesn’t seem concerned.

This is something that I know the legislature looks at every year. I’m sure they’ll focus on it in the next session,” Scott said.

Meanwhile, some say there’s the possibility the issue will turn up in court again. While both the state and tribe have asked for the case to be dismissed, some experts believe pari-mutuels may challenge the settlement.

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