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McCollum asks U. S. attorney to prosecute Seminoles for card games

The state's top lawyer and a local parimutuel both took action Thursday to attempt to stanch the spread of the Seminole Tribe's Las Vegas-style card games, such as blackjack, which the Supreme Court nullified months ago.

The actions come after the tribe expanded its games into Tampa and Immokalee. Blackjack and other house-backed card games first opened at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino near Hollywood earlier this year.

In November, the tribe added 104 blackjack and other card tables to the Hard Rock near Tampa. This month, it added 12 tables to the casino in Immokalee for the same purpose.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Bill McCollum sent a letter to A. Brian Albritton, the U.S. attorney based in Tampa, urging him to "initiate a criminal prosecution to put an end to the calculated illegal expansion of class III gaming by the Tribe.''

Meanwhile, attorneys representing Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach filed a motion to the state Supreme Court Thursday asking the court to enforce its ruling in July and, more importantly, finalize its July order. Until the order is finalized, they and others can't ask a federal court to enforce it by ordering the tribe to stop playing the card games.

Who knows why McCollum has waited until now, when the compact was first invalidated by the court in July, to ask the U.S. attorney? He asked the federal government to step in and stop the tribe from offering the games in July but the National Indian Gaming Commission has not acted.

NIGC acting general counsel Penny Coleman told McCollum in an Oct. 3 letter that the commission was "still studying the Florida Supreme Court decision and the matter remains under consideration." She noted that the court "did not order any party to take specific action and did not specifically declare the previously executed Tribal-State Compact invalid."

In his Thursday letter to Albritton, McCollum said that because the Florida court ruled that the compact signed by Gov. Charlie Crist violated state law, there is no legal compact in place allowing for the tribe to offer black jack and baccarat, which are not currently allowed in Florida.   

"I am deeply concered that the Tribe continued to defiantly ignore the decision of the Florida Supreme Court,'' McCollum wrote.

In November 2007, Gov. Charlie Crist entered into a 25-year agreement with the tribe that allowed them to offer Class III slot machines and gave them the exclusive right to black jack and other banked card games in Florida in exchange for at least $100 million in revenues to the state each year.

Because has ruled that the Florida Legislature must effectively ratify the compact for it to take force since card games are not already allowed in law, lawmakers are prepared to take up the issue in a regular session in March.

On Thursday, Crist said he would prefer lawmakers to take up the issue during its special session in January.

“The Seminole compact is a way to generate some adiditonal resources, not insignificant resources,” Crist said. "So I am encouraging that. Whether it’s, you know, during January or March, I think the sooner the better if possible.”