Florida Record

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Florida betting on appeals court to back blackjack bid

By John Myers | Feb 4, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — The state of Florida has appealed a U.S. district judge's ruling to continue the Seminole Tribe's exclusive rights to offer blackjack games in its casinos.

In November, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a ruling in favor of the tribe, saying that the state violated the initial agreement and extended the tribe's exclusive rights to the game until 2030. 

This conflict goes back to a 2010 agreement that gave the tribe exclusive access to the game until 2015. In addition, the Seminole Tribe was granted a 90-day grace period to continue to offer the games.

However, instead of ending the compact at the agreed-upon time, officials from the tribe argued that the state violated the agreement by allowing pari-mutuels to provide games that were similar to the games the Seminoles offered. The state argued that the designated player games it had allowed were not blackjack games within the meaning of the compact and therefore did not trigger the provision that allowed the tribe to continue offering blackjack.

Five of the Seminole Tribe's seven casinos are directly affected by the litigation, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood.

This is not the first attempt to resolve this conflict. In 2016, both groups reached an agreement that allowed the tribe to continue offering blackjack exclusively in exchange for providing $3 billion in tax money to the state for seven years. The agreement did not pass in the state legislature.

“If the state permitted anyone else to offer banked card games it is a violation of the compact, Judge Hinkle found that the games in question are in fact banked card games,” Barry Richard, principal shareholder of Greenberg Traurig, P.A., told the Florida Record. Richard specializes in gaming law.

Richard said this was a common ruling for a such a case.

“There was nothing unusual about the ruling," he said. "Judge Hinkle held a full non-jury trial. He then interpreted the law and made findings of fact in a very thorough order that was supported by the evidence. That’s what judges do." 

Now the state has to follow the court's instructions and renegotiate the contract with the Seminole Tribe, Richard said.

“The Department of Business and Professional Regulation can order the card rooms to discontinue offering the banked card games and from there the state legislature can negotiate a new or amended compact with the tribe," he said.

The state has said that it plans to appeal the judge's decision but has not yet entered an official request.

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Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino