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Seminole Tribe starts clock on 30-day dispute resolution process over card games

Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman James E. Billie on Wednesday put Gov. Rick Scott on notice that the tribe believes it is entitled to stop paying the state about $216 million a year and to continue offering banked card games unless the state resolves the issue in formal dispute resolution within 30 days.

Under the 2010 gaming compact with the state, the tribe has the exclusive right to operate banked card games -- black jack, baccarat and chemin de fer --  at five of its seven casinos. But under the terms of the 20-year agreement, the tribe is permitted to continue offering banked card games for the full term of the compact if the state permits anyone else to offer such games. If the tribe is no longer the exclusive provider of the games, it also may stop making revenue payments to the state for them -- an estimated loss of about $216 million a year. 

The tribe contends that the state Division of Parimutuel Wagering has violated its right to offer banked card games exclusively in Florida and therefore it is entitled to operate the games even after the provision of the compact that governs the card games expires in July.

The tribe argues that the state triggered this provision by authorizing various video-based blackjack and baccarat stations at non-tribal slot casinos in Miami Dade and Broward counties in February 2011 and by allowing "double hand poker and three card poker" at cardrooms at Ebro Greyhound Park in North Florida, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Racetrack in Hallandale Beach last year. 

Under federal Indian gaming law, the Seminole Tribe and the state have 30 days to reach a resolution or the issue is subject to litigation in federal court.

The tribe said copies of the notice, detailing the dispute, were hand delivered today to Scott, his general counsel, Gov. Tim Cerio, Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.  Download Notice of Commencement

"As a gesture of good faith, the Seminole Tribe intends to continue making revenue share payments for banked card games to the State, pending resolution of the dispute,'' the tribe said in a statement. 

While the tribe challenged the decision by the state Division of Parimutuel Wagering to allow the video lookalikes to operate at racinos in South Florida, it choose not to withhold its revenue sharing with the state or file a formal dispute. Since the compact was completed in 2010, the tribe has paid Florida in excess of $1 billion in revenue sharing. 

"The Tribe has repeatedly put the State on notice that the electronic blackjack games permitted by the State qualify as a banked card game under the Compact,'' the tribe wrote in its letter to Scott, adding that the video-based games operate "in a nearly identical manner, the only difference being that they used electronic rather than paper cards -- a distinction we assert is a distinction without a difference." 

Scott attempted and failed to negotiated a compact last year and this year left it up to lawmakers to decide. Legislators adjourned their regular and special sessions without renewing or revising or the provision.

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