Seminole Tribe In Drivers Seat After Judge Rejects Florida Appeal last reported on the legal battle between the state of Florida and Florida’s Seminole Indian Tribe concerning the Seminole gambling compact on Nov. 29, 2016. At that time, we noted that the Seminoles had agreed, in 2010, to a 20-year gaming compact with the State which covered their seven casinos.

The compact included an exclusivity clause over house-banked table games for five years. But two years into the agreement, Florida reneged on their promise and started allowing ‘designated player’ card games at pari-mutuel facilities. The ‘designated player’ was simply a cover name for house-banked table games. The Seminoles weren’t buying it and sued Florida for breach of contract.

This past November, after the national election, the suit was settled on behalf of the Seminoles by Federal Judge Robert Hinkle. In his decision, he ruled that Florida had violated the terms of their 20-year Seminole gambling compact. It was a major victory for the Tribe, giving them the house-banked games exclusivity for the entire duration of the original 20-year gaming compact.

The administration of Gov. Rick Scott issued an appeal asking Hinkle to reconsider his ruling. Just before Christmas Hinkle responded, but not how the Governor expected. In his two-page order, Hinkle denied the State’s request writing that “the original opinion correctly analyses the issues.” He referred to the ‘designated player’ games as an “egregious example of the cardrooms’ attempt to evade the prohibition on banked card games.” Hinkle’s ruling gives the Seminoles the authority to offer blackjack at its seven casinos through 2030. His ruling could also spur lawmakers into action on the slot machine referendum that was included on the November ballot. Voters approved the gaming machines in eight counties – Brevard, Palm Beach, Duval, Hamilton, Lee, Gadsden, St. Lucie and Washington.

The state will undoubtedly try to renegotiate a new gambling compact with the Seminoles. A spokesman for the Tribe, Gary Bitner, said, “The Seminole Tribe is open to discussions and negotiations as part of its continuing desire to finalize a new gaming compact with the State of Florida. But the tribe prefers not to negotiate in the media.”

The Seminoles are definitely in the drivers’ seat now and whatever new deal emerges probably won’t compare to the guarantee of $3.1 billion the state would have received over seven years had the legislature not rejected a new compact this past spring.

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