Seminole Gambling Rights: Virtual or Reality?

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In a statement by the Seminole tribe of Florida to Governor Rick Scott, the tribe claims that their gambling agreement with the state has been violated. They have given the state 30 days to draft a new agreement regarding the tribe’s rights to operate banked card games. The tribe contends that the deal was broken when racetrack casinos were allowed to host games for which they have paid for the exclusive rights.

The letter to the Governor, sent on Wednesday, has come just one month before the deal that gave the tribe exclusive rights to electronic blackjack and three-card-poker is set to expire. It is a table games monopoly that the Seminole tribe has paid over $1billion to preserve over the past five years, and it expires on July 31.

Tribal Chief, James Billie, the author of the letter, gave state leaders what he calls a notice of “commencement of compact dispute resolution procedures.” This was intended to set off a 30 day period of negotiations. The original deal gave the tribe sole rights to the specified types of card games. The tribe’s contention that the state has violated the terms of the agreement is based on the use of electronic versions of card games to which the Seminoles have a legal monopoly.

The electronic games are, in every outward respect, video games with an external appearance and control system that distinguish the game from anything technically similar to the card games. The state’s lawyers argue that the machines are either a form of virtual gambling or they are slot machines. They are not card games, they claim because there are no cards involved- only the virtual representation of cards.

But tribal leaders contend that while the video slot machines, indeed do not contain real physical cards, the representations of cards that they do contain are the equal to the real thing in every important way.

The rules of the card games represented are the same as they would be in a physical version. About that, there seems to be no contention.

Where the parties hang their premises seems to be on what those cards are made of. The state, it seems, would claim that a card made of information and represented by pixels on a screen is not a card- but only an artistic rendering of one. The tribe leans on their claim that it is the information conveyed on a card that makes it what it is, and that therefore a digital rendering of a game to which they have exclusive rights, is, in fact, a game to which they should have exclusive rights.

While the legality of it all is being put before legislators and gambling officials- the state continues running its lucrative electronic “card game” machines. The Seminole tribe also has made no change in its casino operations but have stated that they will no longer pay for exclusive rights to run these games.

The Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, who helped craft the original agreement told reporters, “It’s my opinion that the tribe is utilizing these arguments and the dispute resolution provision to get into a room with state leaders in order to continue a discussion on the balance of the term of the compact and the operation of banked cards. From a legal strategy standpoint, it’s a good strategy. I disagree with the arguments that they’re making, but it at least gives them a procedural methodology to negotiate with the state.”

While state gambling officials accuse the tribe of legalistic maneuvering, there seems to be an absence of impartiality in the official rhetoric. Because, while the Seminole tribe is clearly vying for the right to run their games without paying millions upon millions of dollars for the privilege, no one seems to bat an eye at the fact that the state is in it- not only to protect its recent questionable gaming practice, but to also charge native Americans millions of dollars to do the same.

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Jared Bates

I have been working in, and with different casinos for over twenty years, and as such I have seen many things happen to gambling online and offline. From Vegas to Atlantic City, and small places in between, my passion lies with games where I can win money.

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