Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seminole Tribe In Florida Facing New Gaming Threats

By Ken Davison
Feather News

The Seminole Tribe in Florida opened its bingo hall in 1979 followed by casinos and in 2006 the Tribe bought the Hard Rock hotel and restaurant chain. All of this was done without a compact between the Seminoles and the state.

That changed in late 2007, when a 25-year compact was signed by Florida Governor Charlie Crist that would result in the Seminoles paying the state $100 million a year. The state legislature objected to the governor's negotiated compact without legislative approval and the Florida supreme court agreed in July 2008 that the governor did not have the authority to permit blackjack under the conpact.

Despite the state's Supreme Court ruling, the state has not tried to stop the Seminoles from offering blackjack.

Since the supreme court decision, the state legislature has proposed two competing gaming deals, one proposed by the House of Representatives and the other by the state Senate. Neither side seems able to compromise on one agreeement. In one of the deals, the House of Representatives would have the Seminoles shut down its blackjack tables and offer only slot machines while the second package, approved by the Senate, would allow the Tribe to operate craps, roulette, blackjack and other card games but would also allow pari-mutuel facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties to offer blackjack. Pari-mutuel facilities outside those two counties would be able to offer video lottery termal (VLT) slots and poker under the Senate plan. The House plan wants the Seminoles to continue paying the state $100 million per year while the Senate plan wants the Seminoles to pay the state $400 million per year.

Miami-Dade county voters approved slot machines at pari-mutuels in 2008 and Broward county voters approved slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities in 2005. Pari-mutuels are betting systems common in horse racing, greyhound racing and jai alai where the the total amount paid out is based on the total amount bet less a percentage kept by the house.

Last week Gov. Crist and the Seminoles agreed to terms on a potential new amended compact that would result in the Seminoles lending the state $1.1 billion over the next two years which the state would repay by deducting the loan from future payments made by the Seminoles to the state. The deal would give the Seminoles a monopoly on Class III slot machines outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties and allow the Seminole to continue operating blackjack games. Legislators are not supporting the governor's plan.

Seminole Tribal members receive an estimated $120,000 per year in distributions from casino profits.