Representatives of the Seminole Tribe of Florida have been meeting secretly with Gov. Rick Scott and his staff this week as the deadline grows near for a new deal for the tribe to continue offering blackjack and other card games at its casinos.
The two sides met Tuesday, as first reported by the Miami Herald, and again Wednesday, according to Seminoles spokesman Gary Bitner.
The Governor’s Office confirmed but did not comment on the meetings, and Bitner would not comment other than to say the meetings were “part of the ongoing negotiations between the Tribe and the State.”
Neither meeting was listed on the governor’s official daily schedule and Scott, who appeared Wednesday at the yearly Associated Press legislative planning meeting, did not bring them up in his remarks.
Blackjack is big money for the tribe and for the state: In return for rights to offer the card game, the tribe had to guarantee a $1 billion minimum payment into the state treasury over five years, starting in 2010-11.
Moreover, the news comes about a week after state Sen. Rob Bradley, who leads a legislative panel that oversees gambling in Florida, told FloridaPolitics.com there was a “better than 50 percent” chance of a renegotiated blackjack deal. He also has been involved in talks with the Tribe. Both sides also have been in formal mediation.
The blackjack provision is in a larger document known as the Seminole Compact. That provision expires earlier than the rest of the agreement, setting up a possible conflict at the beginning of November, when the tribe’s permission to deal cards ends.
The Seminoles want to keep card games at seven of their casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.
But, if there’s no new agreement in place, the state can go to federal court and ask a judge to enforce the compact. That means ordering the Seminoles to take down the card tables.
The Tribe’s lawyers, though, have made clear it has no intent to discontinue blackjack. They have argued the state broke its promise of exclusivity by allowing electronic blackjack and player-banked poker elsewhere in the state, including in South Florida.