Seminole Florida compact negotiations exclusivity

Seminole leader James Billie says that the state has broken the tribe’s exclusivity deal on banked table games. (Image: Joe Cavaretta/Sun Sentinel)

The Seminole Tribe is ready to play hardball with the state of Florida over the inability of state leaders to negotiate exclusivity for the tribe’s gambling operations.

And if the state doesn’t reply soon, the Seminoles say they’re willing to play without them.

Seminole Tribal Chairman James Billie sent a letter to state officials telling them that Florida has 30 days to reach a new agreement with the tribe over their exclusive rights to operate banked card games such as blackjack.

The letter was a very bureaucratically named “notice of commencement of compact dispute resolution procedures,” a mechanism that was included in the 20-year-compact agreed to between Florida and the tribe in 2010.

But while the name of the procedure may sound innocuous enough, the reality is that this dispute is over major issues and a lot of money on both sides.

Compact Included Exclusive Rights to Banked Card Games

When the compact was first agreed to, it included a five-year guarantee of exclusivity over banked card games.

The exclusivity extended to five of the seven casinos operated by the Seminoles; in exchange, the tribe would pay the state at least $1 billion over the five years.

The payments to the state are slated to stop if anyone else is allowed to offer the games, which led both sides to seek an extension of the agreement.

But the state legislature failed to approve a deal during their session earlier this year, and negotiations between Republican leaders and the tribe have not borne fruit after Governor Rick Scott failed to reach an accord himself last year.

According to the letter, the Seminoles believe that they can continue to offer their games even if the state fails to come to an agreement with them over the exclusivity.

Moreover, they say, they would be under no obligation to continue making payments to the state due to what they believe are violations of that exclusivity agreement.

Electronic Games, Player-Backed Offerings at Issue

At issue are two types of games that are offered at some parimutuel facilities throughout the state. The Seminole Tribe believes that both of these games go against the spirit and the letter of their compact.

First, there are electronic versions of blackjack and roulette that have been authorized by gambling regulators and are common at parimutuel locations.

These games operate exactly like their table game versions, but use random number generators and are thus classified as slot machines.

There’s also an issue with Three Card Poker games that are utilized at some racetrack casinos. In these games, a “designated player” backs the game rather than the house, but the Seminoles say that across the country, player-banked card games are considered to be banked games just as much as any casino-backed game.

The tribe says that these games are enough to break the exclusivity agreement in the compact.

“While the tribe could have exercised its right to [stop its payments to the state] immediately, it has thus far elected to continue making its payments to the state and, as a gesture of good faith, intends to continue making its payments to the state pending the resolution of this dispute,” Billie wrote. 

While the tribe way well mean to go through with their threats if an agreement cannot be reached, some believe that the move is really meant to force the state government to get more serious about negotiating a deal.

“From a legal strategy standpoint, it’s a good strategy,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), who helped work on the compact. “I disagree with the arguments that they’re making, but it at least gives them a procedural methodology to negotiate with the state.”