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‘Better than 50% chance’ for Seminole blackjack deal

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State Sen. Rob Bradley, who leads a legislative panel that oversees gambling in Florida, on Wednesday said there’s a “better than 50 percent” chance the Seminole Tribe of Florida and state officials will agree on a new deal for the tribe to continue offering blackjack.

Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries committee, briefly spoke to a FloridaPolitics.com reporter after a medical marijuana press conference. He has been involved in talks with the Tribe.

“We’re closer now than we were two weeks ago, and we were closer then than the month before,” he said.

Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Tribe, did not comment in detail, saying only negotiations were continuing. Both sides have been in mediation.

But time is wasting to renew an agreement allowing the tribe to keep card games at its seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

The blackjack provision in a larger document known as the Seminole Compact sets up a showdown at the beginning of November, when permission to deal cards expires, absent a renewal.

At that point, the state can go to federal court and ask a judge to enforce the agreement, meaning ordering the Seminoles to take down the card tables.

At the same time, the Tribe’s lawyers previously made clear they had no intent to discontinue blackjack, deal or no deal.

Card games generate less than 20 percent of the Seminoles’ gambling revenue, which totals up to $1 billion yearly at the Tampa casino, records show.

In return for exclusive rights to blackjack, the tribe had to guarantee to pay a $1 billion minimum into the state treasury over five years, starting in 2010-11.

Earlier this year, its attorneys had said the state broke its promise of exclusivity by allowing electronic blackjack and player-banked poker elsewhere in the state, including in South Florida.

Because of that, the Tribe can keep offering blackjack and any other card game until the year 2030, they said – and the Tribe doesn’t have to pay the state a dime.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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