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Gambling and the Law: Can Everyone Win In Florida?14 September 2009
Sometimes the most important part of a legal document are the words that are not there.
Gov. Charlie Crist, for example, just signed a new compact with the Seminole Tribe. It expressly allows the Tribe to have slot machines and banking card games, like blackjack.
What the compact doesn't mention is limits. So, the Tribe is free to decide not only its stakes and hours of operations, but how many slot machines and table games it wants, in all seven of its casinos.
It also means the compact violates federal and state law and is invalid – unless the Florida State Legislature decides to ratify it anyway.
Crist signed a similar tribal-state compact in 2007. But he was sued by the Florida House of Representatives.
The case wasn't even close.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Crist and the Seminoles could agree to slot machines, because the State Constitution permits slots in parimutuel outlets in two counties. But the Governor simply could not enter into a compact for a prohibited game, like blackjack. The Court held the compact invalid, because only the State Legislature can decide what forms of gaming are legal in the state.
In light of threats, of questionable legality, by the federal Secretary of Interior to impose rules for slot machines without the state's input or revenue sharing, the State Legislature authorized Crist to enter into a new compact. He had until 11:59 pm on August 31, 2009. He made it, with only a few hours to spare.
But the State Legislature had authorized the Governor to enter into a compact which allowed banking card games only at the tribe's four casinos in Broward and Hillsborough counties. The Seminoles' lawyer, Barry Richard, the lead litigator for George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida voting fiasco, was widely quoted as saying,
"The tribe has substantial arguments that they would be able to have blackjack, whether or not they have a compact. I can't guarantee they're going to get it, but [the possibility] is a very strong incentive for the Legislature to work something out. If they don't, the state is going to get no money."
Of course, blackjack is only available through a valid compact.
The compact contains a few other strange departures from what the Legislature required. Where the Legislature required that injured patrons could receive up to $1 million, the Governor and tribe agreed to a cap of only $100,000 on patron tort claims; hardly sufficient in a wrongful death case.
The revenue sharing is also different, but still a minimum of 12%, reaching up to 25% of gaming win over $2.25 billion in Broward County. The state will eventually get billions, but the tribe will stop paying if state or privately-owned casino-style gambling expands.
Crist did give one bone to competitors: Cardrooms would be able to spread no-limit poker games.
The State Legislature now has only an up or down vote on the proposed compact. The lawmakers will have to decide if they can live with this, or hope for another, better deal, while the state's budget deficit continues to grow.
My guess is the Legislators will throw in some additional side requirements, like decent insurance protection for patrons and some tax breaks for competitors, and sign off on the deal. For it is politics, not law, that will determine who wins in Florida. As the man who brought us George W. Bush – even though Al Gore got more votes – put it, "If they don't, the state is going to get no money."
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