Seminole Compact Provision Expires

The Seminole compact with Florida expired at midnight, Friday, July 31. The five-year agreement gave the tribe exclusivity to offer banked card games in exchange for $1 billion. State officials gave the tribe 90 days to shut down the games, but the tribe said the state broke the agreement and has requested formal mediation.

Florida Governor Rick Scott had until July 24 to respond to a letter from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, requesting that the state enter into informal dispute resolution. Jeri Bustamante, Scott’s press secretary, said, “Staff has met with them and we are in full compliance with procedures outlined” in the agreement. But Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said, “There have been conversations, but no progress, and the tribe plans to move ahead with the process,” meaning a demand for mediation—and if that doesn’t work the tribe can sue in another 60 days. Tribal lawyers said “the parties met on July 16, 2015, but did not resolve the dispute.”

A 2010 provision granting the Seminoles exclusive rights to blackjack and other banked card games in return for giving the state a $1 billion over five years expired Friday, July 31. Ken Lawson, secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, wrote to the tribe noting although state and tribal officials “continue to enjoy an unprecedented amount of cooperation”, the existing compact requires the tribe to shut down its blackjack tables within 90 days, by October 29, if legislators do not renew the provision. He has asked the tribe to outline its plans for shutting down the games.

But the tribe has two legal options to avoid closing the games. One is to declare the state has not negotiated an extension in good faith. The other option is to claim the state broke its guarantee of exclusivity by allowing electronic blackjack and player-banked poker at racetracks in South Florida. Because of that, tribal officials said they can continue to offer blackjack and other banked card games until 2030 and do not have to pay the state anything. Bitner said the tribe would continue to make payments to the state for the card games as a “gesture of good faith.”

Legislators have been called to a special session to redraw Congressional districts and Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano said, “It is very unlikely that we would expand the call to involve anything else, especially the compact.” But he added there’s still hope that a lawsuit can be avoided. “We’re heading to a point where the state has maximum leverage to negotiate with the tribe,” he said.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, chairman of the Senate committee dealing with the compact, said Senate and House officials and representatives from the governor’s office have held meetings to prepare for new negotiations with the Seminoles. “We want to make sure we are on the same page when we sit down with the tribe,” he said.

Last year Scott worked out a deal with the Seminoles extending the compact, allowing the tribe to add roulette and craps at its South Florida casinos and letting it build a casino on its Fort Pierce reservation. The proposed deal also would have blocked Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami for seven years. In exchange, the Seminoles would have paid the state $2 billion. However, top legislators opposed the proposal and it never was finalized.