Poarch Indians win gambling case, seek to expand to Florida

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An Indian tribe seeking to expand its gambling operation into Florida has won a key legal victory to keep open its Alabama casinos.

On Thursday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in a challenge by the state of Alabama to shut down its three casinos, saying they are a “public nuisance.”

In a unanimous decision of a three-judge panel, the court said Alabama has no right to sue the Poarch because of their sovereign immunity. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said he will not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The tribe offers “electronic bingo games (that), Alabama alleges, are actually slot machines,” illegal under Alabama law, the opinion says.

Last March, the Poarch sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, asking to enter into an agreement, or “gaming compact,” for the tribe to offer gambling at a casino it wants to build on land it has outside Pensacola.

The Poarch also operate and are majority owners of the Pensacola Greyhound Track, records show.

On Friday, Scott press secretary Jeri Bustamante said there was “no update” on the status of the Poarch request. A tribal spokeswoman was not available.

If granted, the Poarch could be competitors to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which now has the only gaming compact in Florida.

An effort to renegotiate an exclusive deal between the state and the Seminoles to offer blackjack has been mired in recent months but is now going before a mediator.

And the state’s Miccosukee Tribe could seek a compact for Las Vegas-style gambling. It offers bingo, slots and poker at its Miami resort, but not blackjack.

Though Indian gambling is ultimately controlled by federal law, tribes can negotiate compacts with states for exclusive rights to offer games in return for payments.

The Poarch are not listed as having any compacts, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal regulatory authority over Indian gambling.

The Seminole Compact guaranteed $1 billion for the state out of the tribe’s gambling revenue from 2010 to 2015.

According to their website, the Poarch explain that they are descendants of the original Creek Nation that “once covered almost all of Alabama and Georgia.”

The tribe is headquartered in Atmore, Ala., which shares a boundary line with Escambia County. The Poarch had wanted to build a casino in the unincorporated Nokomis community in the northwest corner of the county.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.