Five years ago, the State of Florida entered into a compact with the Seminole Tribe that gave them exclusive rights to present patrons with banked table games like blackjack. At the end of this month, that contract will expire, and so far, there doesn’t seem to be any resolution to attempts at renegotiation.
The Seminoles have made very clear their desire to renew the contract, which has seen the tribe contributing over $1 billion to the state treasury. Earlier this year, negotiations to renew the exclusive blackjack compact seemed to be going smoothly at first, but soon stalled, and Governor Rick Scott’s intentions on the matter are indistinguishable.
Further complicating matters, legislators were unable to come up with any tangible figures at Tuesday’s Revenue Estimating Conference. Each year, the results of this meeting give state legislators the necessary data to script the state budget.
Traditionally, the Seminoles’ two Florida casinos—the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, and the Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee—syphon hundreds of millions of dollars a year into the government’s state and local tax coffers. The committee was unable to project a complete budget forecast without knowing whether the tribe will contribute any further funds from blackjack and other banked table games.
Chief Economist for the Florida State Legislature, Amy Baker explained, “We may just hold it as a footnote until we know what the governor and the Legislature intend to do.”
State records indicate that, last year alone, the Seminole Tribe contributed $248.5 million to the state’s general fund, and another $7 million to local governments.
If negotiations to renew the Seminole’s exclusive table games compact are not agreed upon before the month is out, the contract will expire on July 31, 2015. Theoretically, should that occur, the tribe will be forced to remove all blackjack and other table games from their casino floors within 90 days.
When approached by the press and asked about his intentions regarding the blackjack compact, Gov. Scott offered a clandestine response. “I’m going to take the right amount of time to do the right thing for the taxpayers of the state,” he said.
Seminole Tribe says Florida Breached Blackjack Compact
Despite a clear desire to renew the exclusive table games contract, the Seminoles have also raised concerns that the state of Florida has already breached the original agreement. James Billie, Chairman of the tribe, sent a letter last month in which he detailed his belief the Seminoles are no longer bound by the compact’s obligations.
Billie states that Florida violated the blackjack compact when the state allowed electronic blackjack and player-banked poker games to be held at other gambling destinations around the state, including Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
The Chairman wrote that, in his opinion, the Seminole Tribe now has the right to continue dealing banked table games until 2030, per the extended details of the blackjack compact, and that they should no longer be responsible for paying a portion of the proceeds to the state. However, he went on to say that, “as a gesture of good faith”, they would continue contributing revenue, “pending the resolution of this dispute.”