TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - With just days before the Seminole Tribe of Florida was supposed to pull out its blackjack tables from its casinos, tribal officials on Monday sued the state in an effort to keep them in place.
Despite saying that there has been “significant progress” in ongoing negotiations with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and others, tribal officials said the federal lawsuit was filed to ensure that its casinos aren’t harmed.
“The tribe has no option but to file in order to protect its interests and those of the 3,100 employees and their families whose jobs are in jeopardy,” the Seminoles said in a statement.
The Scott administration refused to comment on the lawsuit and is also refusing to say whether or not it will turn to federal authorities to require the removal of the blackjack tables from tribal-owned casinos.
The legal showdown isn’t a surprise. A five-year deal authorizing blackjack and other types of card games at casinos such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and Hollywood expired this past summer. The tribe was given a grace period of 90 days to remove the tables. That period officially ends on Thursday.
Scott and top legislators have tried for the past several weeks to reach a new deal. Scott even met face-to-face with representatives of the tribe earlier this month.
But in its lawsuit the Seminole Tribe accused the state of not negotiating in good faith. The tribe maintains Florida officials want more money from the Seminoles “without a proportionate increase in economic benefit to the tribe.”
The Seminoles and Florida first reached a deal in 2010 to give the tribe exclusive rights to have blackjack and other card games at three Broward County casinos and others in Immokalee and Tampa. That deal guaranteed more than $1 billion in revenue to the state.
Documents obtained last year by The Associated Press showed Scott was willing to extend the compact and let the Seminoles add roulette and craps at its South Florida casinos. Those same documents also show Scott was willing to let the tribe build a casino on its Fort Pierce reservation. The proposed deal would have also likely blocked the construction of any Las Vegas-styled casinos in Miami for the next seven years. In exchange, the Republican governor would have gotten $2 billion for the state. But the deal was never finalized because top legislators opposed it.
The lawsuit filed Monday asserts that the Seminole casinos have the right to keep its blackjack tables because Florida regulators violated the compact with the tribe by allowing South Florida race tracks to offer electronic versions of the card games.
Sen. Rob Bradley, one of the legislators involved in the ongoing talks, disagreed that the state has not been negotiating in “good faith.” Bradley, while refusing to disclose details about the negotiations, said the sides have been working toward a final agreement.
But Bradley maintained that the current compact is clear and that the tribe is required to remove the blackjack tables without a new deal in place.
“The state’s expectations are that the tribe will live up to its obligations,” Bradley said.
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