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No Casinos: Don’t reward Seminole Tribe threats on Compact renewal

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As the combative issue of Florida gambling once again heats up, No Casinos calls the renewed debate a simple matter of “bad faith,” which they warn shouldn’t be rewarded.

This week, the Seminole Tribe of Florida sent a five-page letter to Gov. Rick Scott and other legislative leaders vowing to continue providing banked card games, despite the upcoming end of the gambling arrangement with the state.

John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, the organization that opposes gambling in Florida, believes that letter is proof that the Tribe has “broken faith” with Floridians.

“The Seminole Tribe’s letter is a perfect reminder that gambling has become a political, rather than a legal, proposition,” Sowinski said in a statement on Friday. “The Tribe should re-think its approach, instead of breaking faith with the people of Florida.”

The agreement, known as the Seminole Compact, allows the tribe to offer blackjack and other card games at seven casinos across the state, including Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.  According to the 54-page document, the card-game provision is set to end next month unless the Florida Legislature renews it by “affirmative act.”

With the ending of the arrangement on July 31, and without renewal, Sowinski points out that the Tribe is legally required to stop all banked card game operations by the end of October.

“We share the Tribe’s political view that some South Florida pari-mutuels are operating beyond the intent of voters and legislators with regard to slot machines that resemble other Class III games, and believe that legislators should rein in slots and card games,” Sowinski continues. “But we disagree with the Tribe’s assertion that these games constitute a violation of the compact.

“We also find it curious that the Tribe didn’t seek remedies available under the Compact years ago if it thought the state was violating the Compact.”

In the Seminole letter to Scott, signed by tribal chair James Billie, was a demand to enter “dispute resolution,” since the Legislature failed to pass an extension bill in the recently ended session.

Billie maintained that the state also broke legal faith with the Tribe’s exclusive rights to “banked card games” when lawmakers permitted electronic blackjack and poker in Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach among other places.

Senate Leader Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who helped create the original 2010 Compact while serving in the House, doesn’t agree with the Tribe’s argument. There is a vast difference between electronic blackjack and live in-house games, he said.

“Not one casino that has electronic blackjack wouldn’t instead want live blackjack if given the opportunity,” Galvano told the Tampa Tribune.

Sowinski calls the Tribe’s “legal reasoning” just another ploy.

“Given the facts and the timing,” he said, “we see the Tribe’s letter as a negotiating tactic masquerading as legal analysis, and share Senator Galvano’s assessment that this is part of the Tribe’s effort to force the state back to the negotiating table.”

Legislators should respond to the Tribe’s “threats,” Sowinski said, or its “apparent willingness” to not honor the Compact’s end date.

“Lawmakers should also take note of the irony that the Tribe is attempting to do the very thing its letter raises concerns about – allow gambling operations beyond the limits of what lawmakers intended,” he continued.

For No Casinos, focusing on this ongoing dispute between the Seminoles and state leaders somehow misses the bigger picture – a renewed push to expand gambling throughout the state, such as building destination casinos in South Florida.

“When it comes to gambling,” Sowinski said, “you can’t expand it – even by a little – without somebody, someday, using it as an excuse to expand gambling even more.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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