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Seminole Tribe, Florida Ask to Push Back Blackjack Federal Trial

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The future of gaming in Florida hangs in the balance, as a significant trial filed by the Seminole Tribe against the State of Florida could be pushed back to October.

Tribal and state attorneys on Wednesday requested a federal judge delay the two-week trial, now scheduled for July, reported the Associated Press. Both sides claim they need more time to prepare and interview potential witnesses. The tribe filed the lawsuit against the state in October of last year, when the Seminole's five-year compact with Florida expired and parties failed to negotiate a new one.

The trial will determine whether or not the Seminoles can continue to have blackjack tables at their casinos.

While Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed off on a new agreement with the tribe in December, granting the Seminoles exclusive rights to operate blackjack and to add craps and roulette, the deal was rejected by the Florida Legislature during this year’s session. The proposed 20-year compact had included a guarantee that the tribe would generate $3 billion in added revenue to the state over the course of the next seven years.

In lieu of no compact, the tribe is not required to continue payments. But the Seminoles have continued to offer blackjack and baccarat games, and they have been making annual payments of more than $200 million to Florida under the old compact. 

The Scott-Seminole package effectively expanded gaming in the state. In exchange for Seminole tribal exclusivity to operate roulette and craps, the tribe conceded to allow a new casino to open in Miami-Dade County, to permit racinos in Broward and Miami-Dade counties to add blackjack, and to let the kennel club in Palm Beach County add slot machines.

When ICTMN spoke with Seminole tribal spokesman Gary Bitner in December, the tribe was optimistic the deal would get Florida House and Senate, as well as the U.S. Department of the Interior, approval. Bitner had said the tribe was hopeful the compact would provide "stability and certainty for the long term."

RELATED: Seminole 20-Year Compact Provides 'Stability and Certainty for the Long Term

The Florida's Sun Sentinel editorial board said legislative approval was a high goal in an op-ed published yesterday: "Failure of Seminole gambling deal has consequences."

"Winning approval for all that would have been hard enough. Then other issues got rolled into the gambling debate, including whether slot machines and/or other games should be allowed at pari-mutuels outside of South Florida if local voters agreed. There also has been a fierce debate over 'decoupling,' which would allow racetracks to offer other forms of gambling even if they stopped running live races."

The unresolved issue of Indian gaming also affected an attempt by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and others to legalize fantasy sports leagues by classifying them as an "amusement" rather than a form of gambling. The distinction prohibits tribes from claiming exclusivity to that niche. 

Without a legislative special session, verdicts on Florida's complicated gaming situations will fall to the courts.