Seminole Casinos Deck State with Upheld Ruling, Can Continue Offering Blackjack Until 2030

Posted on: December 23, 2016, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: December 23, 2016, 01:51h.

Seminole casinos can continue offering blackjack for at least the next 14 years at the tribe’s six gambling venues in Florida.

US District Judge Robert Hinkle denied the state’s request to reconsider his earlier ruling that favored the powerful Native American group. In November, the federal justice said Florida was in the wrong in allowing racinos to offer so-called “designated player games” after reaching a compact with the Seminoles that had provided them exclusive rights to blackjack through 2015.

Seminole casinos Rick Scott
Blackjack tables at Seminole casinos will continue to exist, at least through 2030. Florida Governor Rick Scott is not behind the latest legal ruling, but a judge says it’s only fair, as the Sunshine State broke an existing pact with the tribe. (Image: Office of Gov. Rick Scott)

Because the Sunshine State broke part of its agreement with the tribe, Hinkle ruled that the Seminoles can continue offering blackjack games throughout the entire duration of its pact that lasts until 2030.

The original plan allowed the tribe to house blackjack tables for five years in exchange for $1 billion paid to the state. Hinkle said no further payments are required from the Seminoles.

“A written opinion set out the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. The original opinion correctly analyzes the issues,” the judge wrote in his two-page dismissal.

Hit and Run It Up

The issue at hand is the concept of “designated player” games. While the Seminoles essentially purchased the rights to blackjack at a cost of $200 million per year, the state looked to reap even more financial benefits off the popular card game.

Florida gave horse and dog racetracks permission to offer card game variants, where a player acts as the bank instead of a casino dealer. Games like two and three-card poker began popping up at tracks across the state, and the tribe objected.

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) has been working to reach a new gaming arrangement with the Seminoles. He produced a seven-year deal in late 2015 that would have mandated the tribe pay $3 billion to the state over the term, but state legislature scrapped that proposal.

Let’s Make a Deal

Hinkle’s ruling comes with the possibility of a substantial financial blow. With his verdict saying the Seminoles do not need to issue any further payments to the government for their blackjack rights, Florida misses out on nearly $3 billion should the original fiscal terms have been extended.

The state can appeal Hinkle’s stance, but the preferred route would be to renegotiate with the Seminoles. Fortunately for Scott and politicians in Tallahassee, the tribe is willing.

“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,” Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner told the Sun-Sentinel. “But the tribe prefers not to negotiate in the media.”

Incoming State Senate President Joe Negron (R-District 25) remains hopeful that the two sides can find common ground. Negron told reporters that it’s essential the state have predictability in its annual revenue streams.

“I’m optimistic that we can work together with our colleagues . . . and ratify a compact,” Negron said recently.