Order Sought to Halt 'Compact' Gaming
by Jim Freer
Date Posted: 9/19/2008 1:37:14 PM
Last Updated: 9/21/2008 12:59:45 PM

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum on Sept. 19 asked the National Indian Gaming Commission to issue a temporary order to shut down the blackjack and baccarat tables and Class III Las Vegas-style slot machines at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
 
In a letter to Philip Hogen, the NGIC chairman, McCollum noted that on July 3 the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist acted illegally when he authorized those games in a compact he signed with the Seminoles last Nov. 14.
 
McCollum also noted that the Supreme Court of Florida on Sept. 11 rejected an appeal by Crist and the Seminoles.
 
A spokesman at the NGIC headquarters in Washington, D.C. was not available for comment. That agency regulates gaming activity on Indian lands. It is an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
 
Because Indian tribes are sovereign nations, casinos and other activities on their properties are not subject to state laws. Thus, several attorneys have said that state and local government agencies in Florida cannot take action to halt the Seminole gaming activities that the state’s highest court has declared illegal.
 
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is the only Florida casino with blackjack and baccarat. It competes with the casinos at Gulfstream Park, harness track Isle Racing & Casino at Pompano Park, and Greyhound track Mardi Gras Race Track and Gaming. All of those pari-mutuels have Class III Las Vegas-style slot machines.
 
Calder Race Course plans to build a casino that would have Class III machines. But parent Churchill Downs Inc. has not announced details or a date for start of construction.
 
The Supreme Court of Florida ruled on a suit that Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio filed on Nov. 19, asking that it void the Crist-Seminoles compact. The court ruled that Crist acted illegally in granting the Seminoles a form of gambling, specifically baccarat and blackjack, that are not legal in Florida.
 
There are different opinions on whether the court’s ruling also declared that Class III slot machines are illegal at Seminole casinos in Florida. In his letter to the NGIC, McCollum said he considers those machines illegal at Seminole casinos.
 
The Seminoles this year have upgraded from Class II bingo-like machines to Class III machines at the Hard Rock and at a casino in Coconut Creek, Fla. The Tribe has five other Florida casinos. On June 22, the Seminoles began operating 71 blackjack and baccarat tables at their Hollywood casino.
 
On Sept. 11, attorney Barry Richard, who represents the Seminoles, told The Miami Herald that the Tribe has no intention of halting those table games because it believes they are legal under federal law.
 
In signing a compact with Crist, 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 amount is less than 10% of the tribe’s annual gaming revenues. However, Seminole payments are in an escrow account and not available to the state because of Rubio’s lawsuit.
 
Gulfstream and other pari-mutuels pay a state tax of 50% of net slot machine revenues. A Calder casino would have the same slots tax rate.
 
Crist and McCollum are Republicans, and that party controls both houses of the Florida legislature. Last December, McCollum sought an injunction from a federal court in Washington to prevent the Interior Department from approving the Crist-Seminoles compact. In January, the court denied McCollum’s request and the Interior Department approved the compact.
 
One option for resolving the impasse would be for Crist and the legislature to call a special session to seek a new compact that would be acceptable to the legislature and might require the Seminoles to make higher payments to the state. As of Sept. 19, no session has been scheduled.
 



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