Seminole Tribe Halts Annual $350 Million Payment to Florida

Seminole Tribe Halts Annual $350 Million Payment to Florida

The Seminole Tribe let Florida know that the casino revenue sharing agreement worth $350 million a year will cease until the state and tribe manage to settle a long-standing dispute over designated-player card games.

The Seminole tribe pulling funding is only the most recent move in a struggle between the tribe and Florida government that’s stretched out for years. In a letter to the governor, Seminole Tribal Council Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said the tribe will continue to negotiate with the state.

“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. 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.”

The “banked card game” issue in question regards card games that are played against the house. Blackjack is a perfect example of such. Non-banked card games, like poker, are played against other players.

Many Factors, Including Sports Betting

The issue with banked card games is the fact that the Seminole Tribe claims exclusive rights to them, an opinion backed by US District Judge Robert Hinkle in a 2016 ruling.

But recently, the Seminole Tribe claims that designated-player card games being offered at pari-mutual and jai-alai casinos are infringing on those rights. In his letter, Osceola says that since the ruling, “there has not been aggressive enforcement against those games, which have expanded since Judge Hinkle’s decision.”

The “aggressive enforcement” described by Osceola was promised by former Gov. Rick Scott. In July of 2017, the Seminole Tribe and Rick Scott reached an agreement that would see the state stop trying to appeal the 2016 card game ruling, and the Seminoles would make payments to the state.

Part of the potential agreement, that would eventually fell apart, was the addition of sports betting into the compact for the Seminole casinos to exclusively offer. There was hope that negotiating sports betting into the compact with the Seminoles would allow it to enter Florida without a state referendum.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be as the legislative session expired before the deal could be finished, leading to sports betting being tabled for the year. With sports betting off the board, the rest of the negotiations with the Seminoles fell off, leading to the Seminoles suspending payments to Florida.

Reactions to the Halted Payments

At least the Florida government wasn’t caught off guard by the payments being halted. Senate President Bill Galvano said that the news “comes as no surprise to the Senate.” Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Galvano said:

“The tribe made it clear that payments would end after the session. For this reason, President Galvano made the decision in March to take the payments from the tribe out of the budget.”

The Florida budget passed this year didn’t include payments from the Seminole Tribe. Of course, $350 million isn’t an insignificant amount of money. Rep. Evan Jenne, speaking with the Tampa Bay Times, said he expects the hole from the lack of money will put “good, necessary programs” at risk.

House Speaker Jose Oliva said the opposite. In a prepared statement, Oliva wrote “the fact that they will not be made has no financial impact on any government function. While it is our hope that all parties can come to an agreement eventually, we are not relying on any future agreement in present planning.”

Osceola did reach out an olive branch in the closing of his letter.

"The Tribe looks forward to resuming discussions with you this summer and reaching an agreement that will allow the tribe to resume its revenue share payments as quickly as possible.”

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