FL Governor Seeks Re-Hearing on Gaming

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe of Florida July 17 asked the Supreme Court of Florida for a re-hearing on its July 3 ruling that declared blackjack and baccarat illegal at the tribe’s casinos in the state.

Filing of the separate motions should enable the Seminoles to keep the two heavily-promoted table games at a casino near Hollywood, Fla., at least until late this September, said Marc Dunbar, an attorney who represents Gulfstream Park and its parent, Magna Entertainment Corp.

The Supreme Court of Florida is on recess until Aug. 15. The process of that court deciding whether to reconsider the case would take several weeks and probably would be followed by other legal battles, said Dunbar, a partner in the Pennington Law Firm in Tallahassee.

Gulfstream is 10 miles from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood, which June 22 became the only casino in Florida that has blackjack and baccarat. Gulfstream is one of three Broward County pari-mutuels with casinos that have Class III Las Vegas-style slot machines. They pay the state a 50% tax on net slot revenue.

Last Nov. 14, Crist and the Seminoles signed a compact that gave the tribe exclusive rights to blackjack and baccarat in Florida and allowed them to upgrade from Class II bingo-like slot machines to Las Vegas-style machines.

In return, the Seminoles are paying their first share of gaming revenues to Florida. This year, the payment will be $100 million. Indian Gaming Report estimates that is less than 10% of the tribe’s annual gaming revenues.

On Nov. 19, House Speaker Marco Rubio sued fellow Republican Crist to void the compact. He asked the Supreme Court to rule that Crist had violated separation of powers laws and was permitting illegal expansion of gambling. Gulfstream filed an amicus brief to Rubio’s suit Nov. 28.

On July 3, the court ruled 7-0 that Crist exceeded his authority by permitting the Seminoles to have a form of gambling, namely blackjack and baccarat, that is illegal elsewhere in Florida.

The court did not rule on the separation of powers issue. It noted that the federal Indian Regulatory Gaming Act permits the Seminoles to have Class III machines because they are legal at other Florida entities--thus far only pari-mutuels in adjacent Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Churchill Downs Inc. has said it plans to build a casino at Calder Race Course in Miami-Dade, but has not set a date to start construction.

Crist’s appeal maintained that the court’s July 3 ruling “dramatically exceeded its own jurisdiction” in its ruling on an action by a state officer.

The Seminoles, who are not a defendant in the suit, said in their petition that banked card games such as blackjack are legal in Florida. The tribe noted a 1990 Florida lottery television show that included a banked card game.

Since the July 3 court ruling, gaming and political observers have pointed to several possible “next steps”:

*Crist and the legislature might hold an emergency session to pass a law that would permit the Seminoles to have the new table games--while paying more to the state. In that situation, the legislature could ask the Supreme Court to invalidate the July 3 decision. However, Rubio and several other legislative leaders have said there are no circumstances under which they would approve blackjack for the Seminoles.

* The Seminoles could seek a federal court injunction to prevent Florida from closing its blackjack tables, or ask a federal court to begin requesting Florida courts to reconsider the case. That would begin a legal process that might take up two years, Dunbar said.

* One quicker action, according to Dunbar, could come this fall if the Supreme Court of Florida does not reconsider the case. Gulfstream and other pari-mutuels would then ask South Florida law enforcement agencies, perhaps ordered by the Supreme Court of Florida, to tell the Seminoles to shut down their table games. That step might be the first trigger for the Seminoles to ask a federal court for an injunction, he said.

One result of the July 3 ruling is that the Seminoles apparently are stalled from any upgrades of gaming at their seven Florida casinos. They have Class III machines at three casinos, all in Broward County. They have been planning to upgrade from Class II machines and add blackjack and baccarat at a casino outside Tampa, about 20 miles from Tampa Bay Downs near Oldsmar, Fla.

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