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Seminoles Put the Brakes on $350 Million Annual Revenue-Sharing Payments to Florida

The Seminole Tribe of Florida alerted Gov. Ron DeSantis by letter that it will discontinue its revenue-sharing payments to the state. (Flickr/Creative Commons Gage Skidmore)

In a hand-delivered letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, the Seminole Tribe announced it is halting its revenue-sharing payments to the state of Florida, effective immediately, on the grounds that many of the state’s pari-mutuel cardrooms offer mutli-player card games that violate the Tribe’s exclusivity to “banked” card games. The Tribe’s exclusive right to operate designated-player card games is stated in its nearly 20-year-old gaming agreement inked with the state of Florida in 2010.

“The Tribe will follow its agreement with the State and suspend its revenue share payments until the illegal banked card game issue is resolved,” Tribal Council Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. wrote. “The Tribe and the State have enjoyed a good relationship and we are hopeful that we will be able to reach an agreement that will strengthen that relationship for many years to come.”

While the Tribe would contribute an estimated total of $350 million in annual revenue-sharing payments to the state in 2019, the Seminole Hard Rock’s impact on South Florida alone is millions of dollars, as James Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, announced at a ceremony to top off a $1.5-billion, 450-foot guitar-shaped hotel tower in Hollywood, Florida, in July 2018.

It awaits to be seen how soon Florida will eliminate the player-designated games from racetracks and other parimutuel venues for the Tribe to reinstate payments.

The years-long dispute stretches back to July 2015, when the Tribe’s compact — initially a 15-year agreement — expired with the state. Without a renewed agreement, the Tribe continued to offer blackjack and other banked card games, arguing that the state had violated the Tribe’s exclusivity by permitting cardrooms across the Sunshine State to offer player-designated games.

In October 2015, the Stated of Florida filed a federal lawsuit to shutter the Seminoles’ blackjack tables, and the Tribe countersued on the grounds of compact violation.

In December of that year, then-Gov. Rick Scott negotiated a new $3 billion deal with the Tribe granting them exclusivity to offer roulette and craps, but the legislature shot it down.

In November 2016, the Tribe scored a major victory, as a federal judge sided with the Seminoles, ruling Florida breached the 2010 compact. Now the Tribe possesses the exclusive right to offer blackjack until 2030 without a compact.

Come April 2018, Gov. Scott entered a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe: consistent revenue-sharing payments in return for state enforcement against player-designated games.

But a year down the road in April 2019, multiplayer card games are still operating at pari-mutel sites across Florida. In May 2019, the Seminole Tribe announced it is halting payments to the state.

While the Tribe and Senate Republicans recently negotiate a new draft compact deal Gov. DeSantis received the proposed 31-year agreement less than two weeks before the session concluded, and noted he would need more time to consider the plan. The Governor has announced his intention to continue discussions with the Tribe throughout the summer to reach an agreement for lawmakers to consider as early as September.

“The Tribe believes that the compact and related legislation developed with Senate leadership would have resolved this issue and been mutually beneficial to the state and the Tribe,” Chairman Osceola wrote in Tuesday’s letter to the governor. “However, the Tribe respects your desire to take more time to review the issues and to resume discussions this summer. In the meantime, the Tribe will follow its agreement with the state and suspend its revenue share payments until the illegal banked card game issue is resolved.”

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