Judge refuses reconsideration in Seminole tribe gambling ruling

By Giovanni Whaley | Dec 24, 2016

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has scored another legal victory against the state of Florida over a gambling agreement made in 2010.

A federal judge refused a request from Gov. Rick Scott seeking reconsideration of a court ruling that said the state violated its deal with the tribe, according to the News Service of Florida.

The compact between the Seminoles and the state gave the tribe exclusive rights dealing with banked card games like blackjack and baccarat over a five-year period in exchange for paying the state $1 billion, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. 

The five-year deal expired in 2015, but it was part of a larger 20-year agreement with the state, according to the News Service of Florida. In 2011, the state of Florida allowed pari-mutuels to offer “designated player” card games, which the tribe claimed violated their 2010 agreement and the judge on the case, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle sided with the tribe, saying the “designated player” games “triggered an exception to the five-year agreement,” according to the News Service of Florida.  

Hinkle ordered that the tribe could continue to conduct banked games for the duration of the 20-year compact, according to the News Service of Florida. The Tallahassee Democrat also reported that his ruling “enacted the penalty clause in the compact for violating the tribe’s exclusivity, putting hundreds of millions of dollars a year from play of these games flowing into the state budget into jeopardy.”  

The Department of Pari-Mutuel Wagering annual report for fiscal year 2014-2015 showed the state only made $14.3 million in revenue from all its licensed card games, which is much less than the $234 million the Seminole Tribe made as a minimum payment around that same time, the Democrat reported.

When asked for comment on the latest developments in this case, the Seminole Tribe of Florida referred all questions to Gary Bitner, president of the Bitner Group.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is very pleased with Judge Hinkle’s ruling and is further pleased that Judge Hinkle reaffirmed the ruling in response to the State’s motion to alter it,” Bitner told the Florida Record. "The Tribe believes the ruling provides for its future stability and ensure 3,600 Seminole gaming employees will keep their jobs.

The state and the Seminole Tribe are still trying to negotiate a revised compact and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said getting the compact ratified is a priority too him, according to the News Service of Florida.

It remains to be seen whether or not the state of Florida will continue to fight the tribe over the banked games agreement.

“It’s not appropriate for the Tribe to speculate on what actions the State might or might not take,” Bitner said.

The gaming industry supplies thousands of Native Americans with jobs in the state of Florida, and Bitner said that relationship remains strong.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida supports the work of the American Gaming Association to encourage fair and appropriate regulation of the gaming industry,” he said.

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