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Judge’s ruling deemed a win for Tribe

A federal judge ruled Nov. 9 the Seminole Tribe may continue to deal blackjack and baccarat, known as banked card games, at all seven of its Florida casinos for another 14 years.

The news means the Tribe is legally authorized to continue the games through 2030, the end date of the Compact with the state, and add them to the Brighton and Big Cypress casinos.

“The Seminole Tribe is very pleased with Judge [Robert] Hinkle’s ruling and is carefully reviewing it. The Tribe believes the ruling provides for its future stability and ensures 3,600 Seminole Gaming employees will keep their jobs,” the Tribe’s spokesman Gary Bitner wrote in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle sided with the Tribe in a lawsuit against the state. The suit claimed the state breached the Compact by allowing electronic banked card games at pari-mutuels in Florida. In the 36-page decision, Hinkle ruled the Tribe may keep the games because an exception was activated when the state authorized designated player games at dog and horse tracks.

“The order declares that the exception has been triggered – that the Tribe may conduct banked card games for the Compact’s 20-year term,” Hinkle wrote.

As stated in the 2010 Compact, the Tribe is authorized to operate banked card games for five years “unless [1] the authorization to conduct such games is renewed by the parties or [2] the state permits any other person, organization or entity … to conduct such games.”

In 2011 the Legislature delegated the task of regulating cardrooms to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which allowed the cardrooms to conduct designated player banked games. The ruling states that these games are in fact banked card games and violate the Compact.

The Compact ensured the Tribe would have exclusivity for banked card games for five years. For that assurance, the Tribe paid more than $1 billion to the state. The ruling doesn’t address payments, which the Tribe has continued to pay since the five-year term expired in July 2015. The state has put the payments in escrow, said attorney Barry Richard.

“The Tribe wants guaranteed exclusivity,” said Richard, who argued the Tribe’s case during the non-juried trial. “If the Legislature allows more gaming, which is an infringement of the Compact, then the Tribe can reduce or terminate payments and continue to conduct gaming.”

Richard said no decision had been made about the payments. He noted the Tribe has had a good partnership with the state, which has kept gaming from spreading to other areas in the state.

Although the state filed actions to stop the way pari-mutuels were conducting player designated games, it never repealed the rule about those games.

“It has no significance,” Richard said. “Based on Florida statutes, they are banked games, period.”

There is no word as to whether the state will pursue another compact with the Tribe.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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