TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The Seminole Tribe of Florida has requested mediation in its dispute with the state over whether it can still offer banked card games, including black jack, in the future.
In 2010, the state and Seminole Tribe entered into a 20-year compact under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The agreement gave the tribe exclusive rights to operate banked card games at five of its seven facilities for five years. After five years, unless the agreement was renewed, the Seminoles would have to discontinue the banked games with in 90 days.
In exchange for five years of exclusivity, the Seminoles pledged to pay Florida a minimum of $1 billion over the same time period, an amount the tribe has exceeded.
The tribe and its lawyers contend that the state has violated the exclusivity part of the deal by allowing other gambling operators to operate banked card games.
According to the mediation request sent Monday:
“The Tribe seeks to confirm: (1) its present right to continue offering banked card games for the remaining term of the Compact, which expires in 2030; (2) its right to stop making exclusivity payments to the State under the Compact and to instead make those payments into an escrow account; and (3) its right to expand the locations at which it is permitted to offer banked card games.”
The tribe states they would like the mediation conference to take place within 30 days.
Last month, tribal chief James Billie sent Governor Rick Scott and state legislative leaders a “notice of commencement of compact dispute resolution procedures” which outlined what the tribe considers violations of the agreement. The letter included a claim the tribe has made for years regarding slot machines that look like blackjack and roulette and are authorized by state gambling regulators at non-tribal pari-mutuels. The slots operate essentially the same as the banked games, Billie wrote, the only difference being that the cards are electronic instead of paper, “a distinction we assert is without a difference.”
The Seminoles also raised a new issue in last month’s letter about whether player-banked card games in which the “bank” is another player instead of “the house” — first authorized by state gambling regulators in 2011and now at play in at least three pari-mutuel facilities — also violate the tribe’s rights to exclusivity. “Banked” card games, such as blackjack, are typically considered those in which players bet against the house instead of each other.
The June request triggered a 30-day period — which ended Sunday — for negotiations that apparently went nowhere.
According to Monday’s letter from the tribe’s lawyers, “the parties met on July 16, 2015, but did not resolve the dispute.”
Federal law gives both sides the right to request mediation if the dispute hasn’t been resolved.
Lawmakers failed to pass a renewal of the compact or a new deal during this spring’s legislative session. But some believed that the 90 days provided to the Seminoles to shut down the games would give enough time to reconsider the issue when the Legislature returns for committee meetings in the fall.
The tribe’s push to keep running the games — and possibly add others, such as craps and roulette — comes as out-of-state casinos continue to seek a foothold in Florida.
The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.