A settlement agreement reached Wednesday night between State of Florida regulators and the Seminole Tribe of Florida ended one courtroom battle.
It may create another.
The agreement ends the state’s appeal of a federal court ruling last year in favor of the Seminole Tribe in its lawsuit against the state. Under the terms of the agreement, the tribe agreed to resume and continue its monthly revenue-sharing payments to the state (more than $340 million). In return, the state recognizes the tribe’s ability to offer blackjack and other banked games (card games that involve players betting against a bank) for the remainder of the compact’s length (through 2030). The state also agreed to have the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation enforce the rule that prevents competing casinos and card rooms from offering competing card games and slot machines that mimic the banked card games the tribe is entitled to operate exclusively.
How the language within that rule and this week’s agreement is interpreted and how strictly the state chooses to enforce it will affect revenue for the parimutuel facilities across the state, such as Sarasota Kennel Club.
“If you read into this little stipulation, their whole thing is they’re looking for a complete monopoly,” Sarasota Kennel Club president Jack Collins Jr. said of the Seminole Tribe. “We have the player-bank games now that we’ve been doing for the last couple years, and in the agreement it said they strictly want to enforce the state trying to stop us from what we already have, so that would obviously put us in a worse situation, which we don’t want.”
The Sarasota Kennel Club is one of more than two-dozen parimutuel facilities and card rooms that have been authorized by state regulators to conduct “player-banked” games, since initial approval was given to the Palm Beach Kennel Club in early 2012. Player-bank games typically take one of two forms. Either a single player acts as a “bank” throughout the game or the designated player who acts as the bank rotates around the table, just as the role of dealer rotates in a game of poker.
Although the presence of such player-bank games is minimal at Sarasota Kennel Club, whose card room, One-Eyed Jacks, is heavily focused on poker, parimutuel facilities, which have struggled for years across the state, are vulnerable to any loss of revenue.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re completely approved and legit,” Collins Jr. said.
That position is matched by John Lockwood, the attorney for the Palm Beach Kennel Club and several other parimutuel operations in the state, who predicted the ruling will not have much impact on those facilities.
“We’ve implemented game procedures to make sure we’re in compliance with the state law,” Lockwood told the News Service of Florida.
Such a position asserts that the designated player games are in line with the agreement when run properly. The Seminole tribe rejects that assertion outright.
“It’s really not that complicated,” Seminole Tribe lawyer Barry Richard said to the Orlando Sentinel. “If players around the table are playing against one person, a bank, it’s a banked card game. If they all have the same bet in a pile and only one’s going to win, then it’s not a banked card game. The tribe is paying a huge amount of money — more than twice as much as all the parimutuels put together — for exclusivity, and that’s what they want. They’re paying for it; they’re entitled to it.”
The tribe sued the state in federal court in 2015, arguing that when the state authorized the player-banked games, it violated the 2010 compact between the state and tribe. The state countersued, and in a ruling last year, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle sided with the tribe. He ruled in his decision that player-banked games operate essentially the same way as a banked game by allowing a player to act as a bank, thereby violating the state’s compact with the tribe, which went into effect in 2010 and lasts through 2030.
The state appealed the ruling, setting the stage for the agreement announced this week. Another indication the state may be forced to adhere strictly to the “aggressive enforcement action” language in this week’s agreement are the terms under which the tribe agreed to continue making payments until after the 2018 legislative session.
“If the Legislature does nothing, it will be status quo unless the tribe believes there are still table games out there past the 2018 session,” state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton told the Orlando Sentinel. “ Then, they can stop making payments.”