- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida is pushing ahead in its legal tussle with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over the tribe’s estimated $2 billion a year gambling operation.

The administration of Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday appealed a decision by a federal judge who ruled the tribe can keep blackjack tables at most of its well-known casinos, including the Hard Rock casinos in Tampa and Hollywood.

The move means the dispute will remain unresolved during a critical time period because the Florida Legislature is expected to consider a sweeping overhaul of the state’s gambling laws this spring that could also have a big impact on the tribe’s operations.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that regulators working under Scott allowed dog and horse tracks to put in card games that mimicked ones that were supposed to be exclusive to tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period. As part of his decision, Hinkle ruled the tribe could keep blackjack tables in place for another 14 years.

The motion by the state did not explain the reasons for the appeal. But Barry Richard, an attorney for the Seminoles, said it’s not unexpected.

“We were hoping they weren’t going to appeal, but we’re not surprised,” Richard said.

The tribe and the state signed a deal known as a “compact” in 2010 that permitted the tribe to have blackjack at its casinos as well as slot machines at most of its locations. Florida has collected nearly $1.7 billion from the tribe as a result of the agreement.

But the blackjack provision expired in 2015. Scott and the tribe negotiated a new larger deal that would have also allowed the tribe to offer craps and roulette, but legislators last year rejected it. One leading Republican state senator has filed a sweeping gambling proposal that would grant those games to the Seminoles, but it would also greatly expand slot machines around the state.

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