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Seminole Tribe: We won’t close down blackjack at casinos

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The Seminole Tribe of Florida told Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials on Wednesday that it will keep blackjack and other card games in place at its casinos despite the looming end of a deal the tribe inked five years ago.

After Scott and state legislators were unable to reach an accord with the tribe it appeared the Seminoles would be forced to drop the card games that have helped turn their casinos — including ones in Tampa and Hollywood — into some of the state’s most well-known gambling destinations.

But tribal officials assert that they can keep the card games in place because Florida regulators violated the gambling agreement by allowing South Florida tracks to offer electronic versions of card games.

The move by the Seminoles just creates another complication in the state’s gambling landscape as outside companies continue to want to build casinos and owners of existing horse and dog tracks are pushing to add slot machines at their locations. Over the last several years efforts to revise the state’s gambling laws have floundered in the Florida Legislature.

The five-page letter signed by Tribal Council Chairman James Billie calls for state and tribal officials to meet in the next 30 days to try to resolve the dispute. If that fails, the two sides will go to mediation and eventually federal court.

There was no immediate reaction from Scott to the letter from the tribe.

The Seminoles and Florida first reached a deal in 2010 to give the Seminole exclusive rights to have blackjack and other card games at three Broward County casinos and others in Immokalee and Tampa. That deal guaranteed more than $1 billion in revenue to the state. But that portion of the compact is set to expire at the end of July, although the tribe is given 90 days beyond that deadline before it has to end blackjack.

Documents obtained last year by The Associated Press showed Scott was willing to extend the compact and let the Seminoles add roulette and craps at its South Florida casinos. Those same documents also show Scott was willing to let the tribe build a casino on its Fort Pierce reservation. The proposed deal would have also likely blocked the construction of any Las Vegas-styled casinos in Miami for the next seven years. In exchange, the Republican governor would have gotten $2 billion for the state.

The deal was never finalized because top legislators opposed it. Scott wanted legislators to hold a special session in May 2014 to approve the new deal.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press. 

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