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State, Seminole Tribe nearing blackjack deal

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The state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida are inching closer to a deal that would allow the Tribe to keep blackjack at its casinos.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, head of the Senate panel that oversees gambling in Florida, says the dialogue is “heating up.”

“We’ve made some great progress in our discussions on coming to some outline of an agreement,” said Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries committee.

A Tribe spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“We are now actively engaged in discussions back and forth with the tribe,” Bradley said. “There is a lot of activity and we’re moving forward.”  

The deal is worth big money to both sides.

Card games generate close to 20 percent of gambling revenue, which totals up to $1 billion yearly at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa. The tribe offers blackjack at six other casinos in the state.

In return for exclusive rights to blackjack, the tribe had guaranteed to pay a $1 billion minimum into state coffers over five years.

Part of an agreement known as the Seminole Compact gave blackjack and other “banked card games” to the tribe, but that provision expired at the end of July.

Without a renegotiated deal, the tribe has to stop dealing cards within 90 days, and the clock ticks toward that fall deadline.

A spokesperson for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, said the state “has responded to a request for mediation,” but didn’t make clear whether the state said yes or no.

DBPR communications director Jaime Florez did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

Still unresolved are allegations by the Tribe that the state broke its exclusivity promise by allowing electronic blackjack and player-banked poker elsewhere in the state, including in South Florida.

Because of that, the Tribe had maintained it can keep offering blackjack and other card games until 2030 – and 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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