The Seminole Tribe of Florida gets to keep dealing blackjack, racinos will be ordered to fold their banked card games and the state can tap into at least $200 million in payments from the Tribe under a surprise deal announced late Wednesday between the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) and the Seminoles.
The agreement assures the Tribe will continue to make monthly payments to the state. In return, the state will enforce U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle's 2016 ruling that allows the Tribe to continue to operate blackjack and other banked card games at its casinos through the expiration of the compact’s 20-year term in 2030.
The lack of legislative presence during Wednesday's agreement was conspicuous by its absence.
“At first blush, I'm not sure that the stipulated settlement agreement does anything more than make it more difficult for us going forward to negotiate gaming with the Seminole Tribe,” Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told Dara Kam of The News Service of Florida. Galvano has long been in charge of gaming negotiations and is due to succeed Joe Negron, R-Stuart, as Senate president. “It's almost as if we're guaranteeing for the Tribe that the status quo will continue for the balance of the compact.”
“DBPR is glad that the state of Florida has reached an agreement to resolve the ongoing litigation between the state and the Seminole Tribe,” DBPR Secretary Jonathan Zachem said in a written statement. “This agreement ensures the continuity of the current Seminole compact and does not allow for any expansion of gaming.”
The Seminoles roundly cheered the deal in a statement of their own.
“The settlement agreement ensures a stable future for the members and employees of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Tribe appreciates the hard work of Gov. Scott and DBPR (the Department of Business and Professional Regulation) to get it done,” said Gary Bitner, spokesman for the Tribe.
The Legislature failed for a second year in a row to reach an agreement lawmakers and the Tribe could live with.
The main sticking point this year was the eight counties where voters had approved slot machines at dog racing and horse racing tracks.
The House, like the governor, wanted no part of "gambling expansion" -- allowing pari-mutuels to offer slot machines in Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Lee, Hamilton, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington counties. Members also wanted to reverse court rulings that allowed pari-mutuels to operate popular alternatives to poker, known as designated-player games. The Senate, however, put its foot down, with Negron arguing that "the issue is about respecting the will of voters" in the eight counties.
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