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Seminole Tribe v. Florida: Federal court fight over blackjack rights

A federal court will decide whether Florida's Seminole tribe can continue to legally run blackjack games in their Florida casinos.

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    Florida Gov. Rick Scott, flanked by Seminole Chief Jim Billie and other tribal leaders, was in Hollywood Monday to unveil a $1.8 billion hotel plan for the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, that included a visually stunning 36-story guitar-shaped hotel and $100 million worth of swimming pools.Scott and the Seminoles said at a press conference that the development hinged on passage of their negotiated gambling compact that would allow roulette and craps tables at the tribe's casinos for the first time and generate $3 billion in revenue for the state in the first seven years alone."We negotiated a compact that is fair and is good for the citizens of our state," Scott said. "Now it's up to the House and Senate to make their decision."One major problem, though, is that the Legislature almost surely will not be able to act on the proposed compact this year. The legislative session ends on March 11, which will make it next to impossible for the lawmakers to fashion a revised
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The future of card gambling in Florida may depend on a federal trial which was scheduled to start Monday. 

The trial between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state of Florida could determine whether the tribe will be able to keep blackjack tables at its casinos. It's the latest attempt at resolving the dispute, ongoing since the tribe filed a lawsuit last year after portions of a gambling deal with the state expired. 

The disagreement stems from a 2010 compact made between the Seminoles and the state, which gave the Seminoles the "exclusive" right to operate banked card games, such as blackjack, at its casinos. As Dara Kram reported for the News Service of Florida in July: 

Under Florida law, a "banking game" is defined as one "in which the house is a participant in the game, taking on players, paying winners, and collecting from losers or in which the cardroom establishes a bank against which participants play." Pari-mutuel cardrooms are allowed to conduct games in which players compete only against each other.

The designated-player games have become wildly popular with gamblers, and have eclipsed other types of card games at most of the state's pari-mutuels that operate cardrooms.

The five-year agreement between the tribe and the state expired last July – but Seminole casinos have continued to offer blackjack, arguing that the state violated the compact by allowing other casinos to operate such games. Under a clause in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the tribe has argued, the state was required to negotiate a new deal in good faith when the first gambling compact expired. 

After the tribe filed a lawsuit in 2015, the state countersued, arguing that the terms of the 2010 deal required the Seminole casinos to remove their blackjack tables. 

In December, Gov. Rick Scott reached a new agreement with the tribe, which would allow them to keep the blackjack tables and add other games such as roulette and craps. That deal, however, was rejected by state lawmakers. 

Now, the battle is set to continue in federal court. So far, Florida taxpayers have paid more than $260,000 to private lawyers to represent the state in the dispute, the News Service of Florida reports. 

This report used material from the Associated Press.

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