Florida’s Blackjack Strategy may Backfire in Supreme Court

Desginated-Player Blackjack Games Backfire in Florida Supreme CourtIn a Supreme Court trial that began on Monday, the Seminole Tribe contends that the State of Florida violated a compact that gave the tribe “exclusive” rights to offer banked table games. The state’s apocryphal blackjack strategy to approve electronic slots that simulate blackjack and designated-player games that aren’t traditionally banked could be backfiring now, as the judge seemed to heavily favor the Seminoles’ arguments on Wednesday.

The Seminole Tribe argues that the state is in direct violation of a compact signed between the two entities in 2010. Not only did Florida authorize pari-mutuels to conduct blackjack games through avenues that attempted to circumvent the exclusivity rules in the compact, the tribe also contends that state legislators failed to negotiate new terms of the compact in “good faith”.

Questionable Blackjack Games Take Center Stage

Designated-player” blackjack games were the primary focus of Wednesday’s proceedings. These games don’t allow players to compete against the ‘house’ (i.e. the casino) the way traditional banked card games do. Instead, the state authorized some pari-mutuel facilities to deploy a professional player – the designated player – to act as the banker. However, that player would be required to buy-in for a minimum of $100,000.

During yesterday’s hearing in Tallahassee, FL, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle had a few grating questions for Ann-Leigh Gaylord Moe, the private attorney hired by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to represent their case.

The state has permitted banked card games to go on,” at pari-mutuel facilities, Judge Hinkle accused the defense. “It’s a stretch for you to convince me that the state did not permit that.”

Hinkle was referring to the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering having authorized designated-player games within its rules in 2014, calling it an “end run around the prohibition” of banked card games in Florida.

Ms. Moe countered the claim, insisting that the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, as an executive-branch agency, had no authority to approve rules that are banned by Florida State law.

Hinkle fired back, asking if the designated-player rule is “valid or not?”

Absolutely,” responded Ms. Moe.

Florida Blackjack Strategy Full of Holes

That reply certainly seems to contradict itself, and the reaction of Judge Hinkle, as well as the plaintiff’s representation, Attorney Barry Richard, insinuates that they think so too.

If the agency had no right to authorize the state’s questionable blackjack strategy to undermine the Seminole’s exclusivity rights to banked table games, how is it that pari-mutuels like Daytona Beach Kennel Club are operating these blackjack games under that very rule?

Judge To Rule in Coming Weeks

Mr. Richard was pleased with the judge’s harsh line of questioning, but declined to comment on just how pleased he was until an official ruling is made.

Certainly, I was happy with where he is, and I think it was the right position,” Mr. Richard told the press on his way out of the court room Wednesday. “But I’ll wait until he rules before I tell you how happy I am, ultimately.”

Judge Hinkle is expected to rule on the case in the coming weeks. If the Seminoles do win, Florida’s pari-mutuels will no longer be allowed to host designated-player blackjack games, and the tribe will continue to have exclusive rights. However, they will no longer have to pay shared revenue on those games to the state, as per the 2010 compact which saw them contributing $1 billion to Florida’s coffers over the first 5 years.

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