For the last five years, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has held the exclusive right to offer casino blackjack and other banked card games at five of their seven gambling facilities. That privilege came by way of a compact with the state that guaranteed a minimum of $1 billion in revenue filling the tax coffers over a five year period. But now, with the expiration of that compact looming, the Seminoles are scurrying to negotiate a renewed deal.
The original Seminole Compact was signed by tribal leaders and former Governor Charlie Crist in July of 2010. Among other things, it granted the tribe permission to offer house-banked card games; the most popular being casino blackjack. It was a significant step in Florida’s gambling environment as no other casinos would be allowed to offer such gaming amusements.
Over that period of time, many Floridians have become accustomed to playing casino blackjack at the Seminole Hard Rock Casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, as well as the tribe’s Seminole Casinos in Brighton, Coconut Creek and Immokalee.
Now that the contract is due to expire in just over two months, tribal leaders are scrambling to strike up renegotiations. Governor Rick Scott seemed open to discussions late last year, but withdrew interest in early 2015 when a new bill was introduced that could have changed the gambling landscape of Florida forever.
The bill was designed to bring two Las Vegas-style destination casinos to the Sunshine State, but it died in committee soon after. Henceforth, Gov. Scott has continued to put off direct negotiations with the Seminoles.
Tribal leaders had been working closely with Senator Rob Bradley [R-Fleming Island], Chairman of the state’s Regulated Industries Committee. In April, Sen. Bradley went so far as to introduce SB 7088, a bill “authorizing and directing the Governor to execute a specified written amendment” to the Seminole Gaming Compact, but that bill died as well.
Two weeks ago, lawyers for the tribe met with legislatures to discuss renewal of the casino blackjack deal, but negotiations were abruptly halted. The House suddenly adjourned session three days ahead of schedule when the Senate refused to let go of a $4 billion healthcare plan that the House greatly opposes in the upcoming budget plan.
Following the dismissal, a letter arrived on Friday at the State Capitol. Signed by Tribal Chairman James E. Billie and delivered to the desks of Gov. Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, the letter was another request from the Seminoles to renew negotiations. Government officials were reminded that the tribe sent its first request in December of 2014.
Neither Scott, Gardiner or Crisafulli have been available/willing to comment on the letter.
The Seminoles, eager to ensure the continued provision of exclusive casino blackjack tables at five of its statewide casinos, were quick to release a statement. “The Tribe remains hopeful that negotiations can commence soon to reach an agreement that will result in favorable action during a special session of the Florida Legislature.
“By letter delivered today to the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, the Tribe has formally renewed its request for negotiations in accordance with the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which requires the State to negotiate with the Tribe in good faith and provides the Tribe with certain remedies if no agreement is reached within 180 days.”
If no new compact is agreed upon by the expiration date of July 31, 2015, the tribes may be forced to cease all action on casino blackjack and other house-banked table games.