Florida Card Games Can Continue at Pari-Mutuel Facilities

Posted on: August 29, 2016, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: August 29, 2016, 02:25h.

Florida card games Governor Rick Scott
Governor Rick Scott wants to end house-banked games at pari-mutuel facilities, but a judge has ruled that the Florida card games can continue at the racinos. (Image: politico.com)

Florida card games with a so-called “designated player” can continue at pari-mutuel facilities across the state.

In late December, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, motioned to appeal a rule that allowed “designated player games,” also known as “banked card games,” from being admissible at horse and dog racetracks. The companies that own and operate the tracks filed a petition, and this week the Division of Administrative Hearings ruled in their favor.

“Based upon the foregoing finds of fact and conclusions of law . . . the proposed repeal of rules constitutes an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority,” Judge Gary Early wrote in his extensive 52-page order. Early explained in detail that the state’s pari-mutuel governing body doesn’t hold the rights to repeal such a law.

House-banked card games include blackjack, the most popular table game at pari-mutuel racinos. Gaming operators pulled in $87 million last year in house-banked table games.

“Respondent (the department) has taken an activity that it previously found to be legal and authorized and, by repealing the rule and simply being silent on its effect, determined that activity to be prohibited,” Early stated. “The evidence is conclusive that, by its repeal, respondent simply changed its mind.”

Seminole Tomahawk

The state’s attempt to remove house-banked games from various pari-mutuels is largely believed to have been an effort to reach a new compact with the powerful Seminole Tribe. The Native American group operates seven of the state’s eight land-based casinos, but its compact with Florida expired in July 2015 and a new agreement wasn’t reached before the October 31 deadline.

Governor Rick Scott (R) came to terms with the Seminoles in December, but the state legislature still needs to sign-off on the agreement. It initially had the support of the state Senate, but died in the House.

The Florida legislature won’t reconvene until 2017.

Scott’s proposed deal would have guaranteed the state $3 billion from the Seminoles over the next seven years. The 20-year contract would have provided the tribe with exclusive rights to blackjack and add roulette and craps to its casinos.

Impossible Impasse

The Seminoles’ compact with the state has expired, but they continue to send revenue checks to Tallahassee. They might stop, however, based on Judge Early’s verdict this week.

Early wasn’t willing to bend the law to cater to the Seminoles.

“Though there is substantial evidence to suggest that the reason for the change was related to the renegotiation of the Seminole Compact, the reason is not important,” Early wrote. “What is important is that the respondent has taken divergent views of the statute in a manner that has substantially affected the interests of the petitioners.”

So the Seminoles and Scott are pushing to give the tribe exclusivity on blackjack and other house-banked games, but a judge says the state’s gaming laws permit pari-mutuels to offer the card games.

It’s just the latest development in the politically charged divisive nature of Florida gambling. The back-and-forth will likely continue throughout the 2017 legislative calendar.

“Every time you put a gaming bill up in the Florida Legislature it’s like throwing a side of beef into a shark tank,” state Senator Tom Lee (R-District 24) said last March.