Florida vs. Seminoles: It’s Heating Up

Florida Governor Rick Scott (l.) has gone to federal court seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the Seminole Indian Tribe accusing his administration of negotiating in bad faith on a deal to extend the tribe’s lucrative state monopoly over house-banked card games.

The state of Florida and the Seminole Indian Tribe appear to be farther apart than ever on the scope of legal gaming within the tribe’s multibillion-dollar casino empire.

At issue is the future of the tribe’s exclusive right to offer house-banked card games, such as blackjack, in the state. This key provision of the tribe’s federally mandated compact with the state expired in the summer, and when a 90-day grace period lapsed last month without a new agreement in place, the tribe asserted its right to continue to operate the games and sued in U.S. District Court, accusing the state of failing to negotiate in good faith on a new deal.

In the latest legal salvo the administration of Governor Rick Scott is asking a federal court in Tallahassee to dismiss the tribe’s suit on top of a separate state action filed in federal court in Tampa—home of the Seminoles’ hugely lucrative Hard Rock Casino and Hotel—seeking an order to stop the games.

The Seminoles contend that the state violated their exclusivity in regard to the games by allowing live poker and slot machines that mimic blackjack at racetracks. The state disputes this and in seeking the dismissal has accused the tribe of filing its lawsuit too soon, since the overall compact, signed in 2010, does not expire until 2030.

A big part of the falling-out stems from opposition in the Florida Legislature. News reports last year said Scott was willing to extend the compact and let the Seminoles add roulette and craps at its South Florida casinos. Reportedly, he also was initially willing to let the tribe build a casino at its Fort Pierce reservation as part of a deal that likely would have blocked the construction of any large-scale commercial casinos in Miami. In exchange, the state would have gotten a $2 billion share of the gaming revenue from the tribe’s seven casinos on top of the $1 billion agreed in the 2010 compact.

The deal, however, was never finalized because top legislators opposed it.