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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – In the latest twist in dueling lawsuits over blackjack in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is asking a federal court in Tallahassee to dismiss a legal challenge filed last month by the Seminole Tribe.
The legal wrangling is based on a 2010 gambling agreement, known as a “compact,” between the state and Seminoles. A part of the deal giving tribal casinos the exclusive rights to offer banked card games, such as blackjack, expired this summer.
A 90-day grace period allowing the tribe to continue holding the games expired last month, prompting the Seminoles to file a lawsuit in the federal Northern District of Florida accusing the state of acting in “bad faith” regarding negotiations on a new deal and asking a judge to allow the tribe to keep holding the card games.
Less than a week later, the state filed a separate lawsuit in the federal Middle District in Tampa, asking a judge to stop the games.
The tribe wants the court to consolidate the cases in the Northern District, but the state filed documents Tuesday asking that the Seminoles’ lawsuit be dismissed or transferred to the Tampa court.
Lawyers for the state argued that the Middle District is a more appropriate venue because that’s where the Seminoles’ gambling activity takes place. The tribe’s Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Tampa is one of the world’s most lucrative gambling facilities.
The tribe contends that the state violated the Seminoles’ exclusive rights to hold the card games by authorizing slot machines that mimic blackjack and “player-banked” card games at pari-mutuels throughout Florida.
The state rejects those arguments, and, in seeking the dismissal, accused the tribe of filing its lawsuit too soon, since the overall compact does not expire until 2030.
“The best that can be said about the tribe’s failure-to-negotiate claim is that it is 15 years premature,” wrote William Spicola, general counsel for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees gambling in the state.
The court battle comes after Scott’s general counsel, Tim Cerio, worked alongside House and Senate leaders to try to hammer out a new agreement with the Seminoles that would have allowed the tribe to add craps and roulette to its casino operations. In exchange the Seminoles had agreed to pay the state $3 billion over seven years — more than double the $1 billion over five years the tribe agreed to pay for the card games exclusivity.
Hopes of an agreement between the governor’s office and the tribe appear to have dimmed as the lawsuits have moved forward.
The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.