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Florida Supreme Court overturns Indian casino compact

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July 5, 2008

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Supreme Court ruled 7-0 Thursday that Gov. Crist overstepped his constitutional authority by allowing games at Seminole casinos that are illegal in other parts of the state. The games in question are blackjack, baccarat, and other table games.

The court said in its ruling: "The governor has no authority to change or amend state law. Such power falls exclusively to the Legislature."

The Florida House and Senate sued Crist for signing an expanded gambling agreement last November with the Seminole Tribe claiming the deal required their approval, but the court bypassed that argument.

The following are questions and answers published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel today.

"Question: Does the court ruling mean the tribe will have to immediately shut down blackjack and other table games at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood?

"Answer: No. For now, players still will be able to double down at the casino's 71 blackjack tables.

"Tribal attorneys say the casino has the authority to operate the games under federal law. That's because the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the Seminoles' compact deal with Crist that gave the tribe exclusive rights to table games for at least $100 million a year, the attorneys argue.

"Question: Could the table games be shut down?

"Answer: Yes, but no one can say when or how it could happen.

"The Isle Casino & Racing of Pompano Park filed for an injunction last month in Tallahassee federal court to block the Seminoles from offering table games. U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle hasn't given a time frame when he will issue his ruling.

"In addition, Attorney General Bill McCollum could file his own federal action seeking a similar injunction. McCollum is assembling a team of attorneys that will meet Monday to determine what steps—if any—he should take.

"In December McCollum unsuccessfully attempted to block the Seminoles from offering Las Vegas-style gambling before the Florida Supreme Court ruled.

'It's really too early to tell what he might do,' said McCollum spokeswoman Sandi Copes.

"Question: What about Las Vegas-style slot machines and poker at the tribe's casinos?

"Answer: Thursday's Florida Supreme Court decision said Crist didn't have the authority "to bind the state to a compact that violates Florida law."
The state high court did not address whether Crist had the authority to enter into a compact consistent with state law.

"Because Florida law allows Las Vegas-style slot machines at Broward and Miami-Dade racetrack casinos, the tribe has a good argument for keeping the machines at its three casinos in Broward County, said Kathryn Rand, a University of North Dakota law professor and gambling law expert.

"I think it's fair to read the Supreme Court's decision as only invalidating part of the compact, only the portion that eliminates [blackjack and table games]," Rand said.

"The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires a compact to be in place for tribes to have Las Vegas-style games.

"The Seminoles' compact allows the tribe to have six high-stakes poker tournaments annually at each of their casinos, but otherwise the stakes are the same as the cardrooms at the state's pari-mutuels .

"Question: Can this mess be resolved quickly?

"Answer: Highly unlikely. The only sure-fire way to resolve it is for legislative leaders and the tribe to hammer out a deal and have the Legislature vote on it.

"Outgoing House Speaker Marco Rubio, R- West Miami, has been adamant that he's against the expansion of gambling.

"Barry Richard, an attorney for the Seminoles, said Thursday the tribe isn't inclined to negotiate with the Legislature.

"Jarvis said behind-the-scenes negotiation are inevitable.

"The Legislature will eventually throw out a ridiculously high number and the Seminoles will say OK and cross out the old numbers on the compact,"
he said.

"But Jarvis predicts a special session won't happen in the heat of election season. That would leave the incoming Legislature to approve the compact during its 2009 regular session.

"Question: If the Legislature and the tribe don't reach a deal, what happens?

"Answer: The lawyers stay busy. The tangled web of litigation involving the tribe, the state, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the pari-mutuels will continue with no clear end in sight."

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