Seminole Tribe refuses to take down blackjack tables

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The games are still on.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida will continue to offer blackjack at its casinos despite the end of an agreement with the state allowing it to offer card games, a spokesman said Thursday.

“The Tribe believes the games have been authorized for the reasons stated in the complaint, and it is seeking court guidance while the games continue,” Gary Bitner said in an email, referring to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Thursday marked the last day of a 90-day window the Tribe had to remove card games after the expiration of its deal for exclusive rights to blackjack in Florida.

The Tribe’s lawyers, however, previously made clear it had no intent to discontinue the games.

They have argued the state broke its promise of exclusivity by allowing electronic blackjack and player-banked poker elsewhere in the state, including in South Florida.

The tribe offers card games at seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

The Seminoles’ lawyers filed suit in federal court in Tallahassee, asking for a declaratory judgment to settle the controversy.

“Basically, we’re asking for the court to tell us who’s right,” said Barry Richard, the tribe’s outside counsel. “Until that’s decided, the state really can’t do anything further.”

A initial hearing in the case has not been set, according to court dockets.

“We’ll end up in court, the court will hold a hearing and whatever’s decided, both sides will abide by,” Richard said.

Both sides are still talking, he added, and “there still might be a deal.”

The blackjack provision is one part of an agreement known as the Seminole Compact. The card-game portion ended July 31 but has a 90-day grace period that included time for informal negotiation and structured mediation.

In return for exclusive rights to blackjack, the tribe guaranteed $1 billion in payments to the state treasury over five years, starting in 2010-11.

Earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott repeated his well-worn answer about renewing the deal.

“I’m going to take the right amount of time to make sure I take care of all the taxpayers,” he told reporters after a Florida Cabinet meeting. “I want to take care of our state; I want to make the best deal I can.”

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.



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