Seminoles and Florida Take a Step Forward

The Florida Legislature and the Seminole Tribe have taken a step forward in reaching an agreement in regards to the Seminoles’ blackjack tables and slot machines. The deal isn’t finalized yet, it still has to pass the House, the Senate and the tribal council. But considering it was the tribe and the Legislature that have been butting heads from the beginning (the deals signed in 2007 and 2009 between the Seminoles and Governor Crist were rejected by the Legislature), the fact that they have a signed agreement is very encouraging.

In this signed deal the Seminoles would be paying Florida $1.5 billion over five years. This will give them exclusive operation rights for blackjack in their Hollywood, Immokalee and Tampa casinos; there is also the option to add blackjack to the Seminole casino in Coconut Creek. It also gives them exclusivity over Vegas-style slot machines for twenty years.

The $1.5billion would be paid out in the following way:

$150 million for years one and two
$233 million for years three and four
$234 million for year five

But to balance out the benefits the Seminoles are getting for their blackjack and slots exclusivity, pari-mutuels would be allowed higher limits at their poker tables and extended hours. But pari-mutuels would also receive 350 video bingo machines and historic race machines—but those machines cannot operate like slot machines. If they do operate as such then the pari-mutuels would be stepping on the Seminoles’ toes.

At the end of five years the Legislature can allow the pari-mutuels to offer blackjack, but the Seminoles’ payment to the State would be lowered so that they are only paying for their exclusivity for slot machines. And if the Legislature allows for pari-mutuels to allow video lottery terminals outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties then the Seminole payments would cease.

Now my reasoning on this is that the Legislature is looking to make the most money for Florida. In light of that it would be wise in five years for the Legislature to make another deal with the Seminoles to keep their exclusivity for blackjack. The Seminole casinos will at that point be known as the place to go in Florida for blackjack; they can draw in the players which allows them to continue to make high payments to the State, which Florida needs.

Although we all know that the pari-mutuels will want more and more. But the thing to keep in mind is that the casinos are the Seminoles’ primary source of income for their tribe. Cutting of their exclusivity will hurt their relationship with Florida, and they could turn the Federal government to maintain their place in Florida.

But I have a funny feeling that in five years we’ll see another five years will see another long drawn out set of negotiations because the pari-mutuels will want more.

Seminoles Making a Deal?

It looks like the state of Florida and the Seminoles just might be reaching a deal that everyone can live with. Maybe.

This deal comes down to compromise.

From the looks of it the Seminoles would get to keep their exclusivity to blackjack and Vegas-style slots. But the pari-mutuels would get extended hours of operation, increased buy-ins at their poker tables and bingo style betting machines; there’s also the possibility that in the future pari-mutuels might get video lottery terminals as well.

Hopefully this would make everyone happy since the Seminoles would be getting their exclusivity. Having exclusivity is important to the Seminoles because the profits from their casinos are a very large chunk of the tribe’s livelihood.

The only hand up seems to be the video lottery terminals. The Seminoles want exclusive rights to those as well. But the pari-mutuels want them so that they have the feeling that they could compete with the Seminoles in terms of drawing a gambling crowd.

But a deal is going to have to be reached. The pari-mutuels are getting restless and the Seminoles are getting more and more irritated—both mostly from the three years it’s taken to even come close to a deal. And the state of Florida needs the income.

If this deal is agreed upon by the state and the Seminoles, it would put $450 million into the state’s budget. The money comes from licensing fees mostly. But Florida needs that money. Especially since the Seminoles’ contribution is allotted for education—and the money is badly needed for the state’s education programs and teachers’ salaries.

At this point we need to sit back, cross our fingers and hope that exclusivity to blackjack and slots is going to be enough for the Seminoles to agree.

States Need Revenue

Since the recession, states around the U.S. are having trouble with their budgets. Trouble as in there isn’t enough money. And we’re not talking falling short a little bit, but a lot. As in millions—or billions in some places—short.

With states being at such a loss in terms of money they’re forced to cut programs and jobs, including programs and teachers in our children’s schools. And since cutting jobs hurts the economy even more and cutting education programs hurts our children, states are beginning to look at other ways of bringing in money.

Legalizing or expanding gambling offerings, such as blackjack tables, is being looked at or acted upon in at least eighteen states this year. And it’s only March.

While I’m not going to complain about a wider selection of casino games and it being easier to play blackjack, just how desperate are states for more income?

Check out what Rep. Kraig Paulson, the Republican leader in the Iowa House said: “Absolutely, we’re addicted to gambling dollars.” And this man is an opponent to expanding gambling in his state. But he also understands that his state needs revenue as well.

So what all are states up to?

-Iowa has begun a new state lottery.
-Pennsylvania has legalized table games, like blackjack.
-New York is adding 4,500 video lottery machines.
-The Governor of Connecticut wants his state to offer Keno in restaurants.
-More lottery machines have been installed in Florida. Florida is also trying to reach a deal with the Seminole tribe in regards to blackjack tables at their casinos.
-Kansas has increased its promotion of Dodge City.
-Missouri is switching and upgrading its slots game offerings to include fancier, more entertaining slots.
-And Maryland is adding 10,000 slot machines.

For citizens that are opposed to opening up gambling offerings, take a moment to consider another option: raising taxes. Suddenly, while you still aren’t in favor of things like blackjack tables, expanding a state’s gambling offerings don’t seem so bad. Because nobody wants to pay more in taxes.

Turning to gambling isn’t a sign that states are loosening up their morals. Legalizing and expanding their gambling offerings is a sign that states are looking for ways to increase their revenue while not hitting their citizens any harder. Yes, gambling will take more of their money, but it will be money willingly offered by citizens, whereas no one likes to pay taxes.

So when you’re not happy to hear about more blackjack tables or some other form of gambling coming to your state, think of the alternative—you could be paying more in taxes.

Is Blackjack Finally Settled in Florida?

You have to give it to the Seminole Tribe. They never give up.

The Seminoles and Florida are going another round to try to find a solution to blackjack tables that both sides can agree on. And it seems that both sides are finally reaching a real potential compromise.

In this new proposal, the Seminoles would get their blackjack tables and they would be their casinos would be the only ones outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties to have them. The Seminoles would have to pay $430 million right away and then another $150 million each year for the next five years.

But on the state side, no pari-mutuels would be allowed to have table games. If either the state legislature walked away from this deal in the next three to five years, or if pari-mutuels outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties started up table games, then the Seminoles would be allowed to stop paying the state.

The comprise is that the Seminoles would get to keep their table games but they would not be getting long-term exclusive rights. This is good for the state since it allows for future table game expansion down the road.

But the best thing about this potential agreement is that blackjack tables will be found in Florida, and that money—from the Seminoles’ payments—would go mainly into the state’s education budget. So blackjack fans get a place to play and hopefully some improvements can be made to education of Florida’s children.

And knowing that your blackjack losses are helping kids and their schools kind of takes the sting out of losing. True, the Seminole casinos are only giving part of their profits to the state but if you lose a hand you can imagine that your money is helping to pay a teacher’s salary so that the state can have more teachers and less crowded classrooms.

The only real downside to this potential agreement is that if the legislature doesn’t walk away, and if no other pari-mutuels take up table games, this deal would only be good for five years. So if this agreement goes through we could be looking at another round of drawn out squabbling in five years.

But let’s be happy for now and enjoy our blackjack tables and hope the Seminoles and Florida reach an agreement so that the education budget gets some much needed funds.

Delaware—If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em, But Do It Better

New Jersey and Pennsylvania have them. Okay, Pennsylvania doesn’t have them yet, but they were approved for them a few weeks ago. What is ‘them?’ Table games. Blackjack included.

While Delaware may have been the very first state they are not the first to allow table games or legalize online gambling for their residents to give their revenue a boost. And that’s exactly what led Delaware Governor Jack Markell to propose the allowing of table games, blackjack, poker and craps, in the state’s three slots parlors. He also wanted Delaware to be able to compete with nearby states, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and their gambling offerings.

The breakdown of how the revenue from Delaware’s blackjack, poker and craps tables will be as follows: 66% will stay with the slots casinos, the state will receive 29%, and 4.5% will to the horse racing purses. Not quite sure why revenue from casino games is going to horse purses, other than maybe to keep them from fussing about lost revenue to table games…perhaps Florida should keep that in mind.

And while 29% may not sound like a lot to most of us, Markell estimates that blackjack, poker and craps will give the state around $40 million a year—a nice boost to their revenue.

The other thing of note to Delaware’s decision to allow table games is that it took less than two weeks. It was cleared in the House last week; and approved by the Senate and signed by Markell on Thursday. We can all recall how long Pennsylvania went back and forth. And Florida is still going round and round with the Seminoles refusing to give up.

Perhaps other states should look to Delaware as an example. They understand that they needed the revenue. If the 4.5% that’s going to the horse purses is to help balance out potential lost revenue, then they made a bit of a compromise so that they could allow table games. And this bill was approved in less than two weeks.

Also to be looked at admirably is that Delaware has another table games related bill. It is a bill aimed at preventing and punishing those who cheat at this table games. So not only is Delaware acting quickly and smoothing the opposition’s feathers to get the revenue the state needs, they’re also trying to make sure blackjack, poker and craps stays fair for those who play.

All states who are considering allowing table games—take note of Delaware. They weren’t the first state for nothing!

Florida Government Still Bickering Over Blackjack

I’m a little astounded by Florida’s Legislature. And I can say they defiantly must be on the side of all the pari-mutuels. Look at them: they are against allowing the Seminole tribe to expand their gambling offerings with blackjack tables, yet they are just fine looking at legalizing online gambling for Florida residents. But then the pari-mutuels would be able to host online gambling operations for the state. Not surprised at all.

And normally, other than wondering whether Florida will ever have blackjack tables at the tribal casinos, I wouldn’t really pay all the much attention to Governor Crist bickering with the Legislature. But there is an aspect to allowing blackjack tables that genuinely interests me: the money the Seminoles would be paying to have blackjack and a percentage of the proceeds would go into the state’s education budget—you know, to educate children.

So really what the Legislature, and Crist as well since it takes two to bicker, are really missing is that Florida has a chance to improve the education of Florida’s children. It’s not just the blackjack players in Florida that would miss out if the tribe and the Legislature can’t agree—it will be the children.

As a push, Crist is proposing a $535 million increase to the state’s education budget. And that money can easily come from the Seminoles paying for blackjack. But the Legislature, who seems to be favoring the pari-mutuels, are bulking at that increase, and saying that the increase would be nice, but are unwilling still to allow the Seminoles to have their blackjack.

It makes me want to ask the Legislature if they’re really okay letting the education of Florida’s children suffer for whatever incentive there is in fighting Crist and the Seminoles. Thoughts anyone?

Florida is Waking Up for Online Blackjack

It finally seems that the states are waking up in regards to online gambling and online blackjack. Last week, in light of Pennsylvania approving table games, New Jersey is looking at legalizing online gambling for its residents. Now it seems that Florida may go down that road too.

Florida itself doesn’t seem to be really opposed to gambling. The state does have casinos and racinos. The legislature’s decision, I think, came down to which side had more money to lobby with. But anyway, the Seminoles have had their dreams of having a monopoly on blackjack tables done away with. Which is a shame because the Florida budget could use the income that would have come from the Seminoles.

And I’m sure Floridians would have loved to have blackjack tables at all seven tribal casinos.

But closing the doors on the Seminole blackjack tables doesn’t fix Florida’s need for revenue. So similar to how Pennsylvania turned to table games like blackjack to fill in the hole in their budget, Florida is beginning to look in that direction too…only they’re looking at online gambling regulations.

And I have to give them some kudos here. They are acknowledging that Americans gamble online.

Yes, Americans gamble. Don’t even pretend to be surprised.

Florida’s Office of Program Policy and Government Analysis (OPPAGA) is reviewing the good and the bad of legalizing and regulating online gambling, such as online blackjack, within Florida. They have accepted that Americans have turned online gambling into a past time. And they’re seeing the millions, if not billions, of dollars that are being funneled into the revenue of other countries where it has no benefit to the Americans who are playing.

In legalizing online gambling, Florida is hoping to find the money to fill in the holes in their budget, and then put that money to use for the Floridians that are doing the gambling. Hopefully, Florida will legalize online gambling and that will help turn the tide on a federal level.

Blackjack vs. Video Blackjack

I write this after reading a news piece on how the Florida Legislature pretty much shut down the Seminoles’ deal for keeping their blackjack tables. On a side note, it’s possible that the “cease and desist” order could come from the National Indian Gaming Commission within a month for at least three of the seven Seminole casinos. Although, the NIGC hasn’t made the move to shut the tables down yet.

But near the end of the article was an interesting development on the Seminoles part. They are now apparently examining the virtual or video blackjack games found in South Florida racetracks.

These video blackjack games are what caught my eye. The way these games work, players are seated around a TV monitor where they play out their moves on a touch screen in front of them. So the dealer, the cards and the chips are all virtual, but the rules and how the game is played is the same as any ordinary blackjack game.

Now to me this sounds a lot like a mashed together version of a blackjack table and online blackjack.

The Seminoles feel that this is close enough to blackjack that it would give them legal rights to keep their tables. The Seminoles can have any game that is offered in the state. And if these video blackjack games in South Florida are judged to be close enough, it gives the Seminoles what they need. However the president of one of the South Florida casinos says that these video blackjack games are nothing more than a slot machine.

A slot machine? Last I heard a slot machine has reels, virtual or otherwise, that spin. Players win by chance if a combination comes up on said reels. Blackjack has no reels. And if players are playing a game in which the objective is to beat the dealer without going over 21, then I believe it’s blackjack.

According to the South Florida casino president, his video blackjack games aren’t blackjack because they have no live dealer and the cards and chips are electronic. But what is online blackjack then? That’s all electronic, and the last time I checked they still call that blackjack.

So really what is defines a blackjack game? A live dealer? Then what are we playing online?

It seems more that this president was on the side of the legislature and feels threatened by the Seminoles. Why else call a video blackjack game a slot machine?

I believe blackjack should be defined by the game itself, regardless of how it’s played. If the objective is to beat the dealer without going over 21 it’s blackjack.

Florida Trying to Legalize Online Gambling

The last several months, Florida politicians and legislatures have been going back and forth with Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe about allowing table games at the tribal casinos. These are of course land based casinos. And the Seminoles want to exclusively offer table games to Floridians and tourists. Obviously racinos across Florida have issues with this.

But the taxes and fees that the Seminoles would be paying would be going into the State’s funds, specifically the education budget. But with the continued stalemate has resulted in no revenue from gambling going towards the State’s financial needs.

Thankfully other options are being examined.

Florida’s Legislative Office of Program Policy and Government Analysis (OPPAGA) is coming to the rescue. They will be presenting a review they have conducted on online gaming to the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on this coming Tuesday, January 19th at 4pm—their time. They are trying to legalize online gaming—blackjack included—in the State.

With extra revenue needed to fill out the budget and the Seminoles, Crist and State Legislature still squabbling, it’s no surprise that another group has stepped up to the plate to try to find revenue. And with how popular online gaming this just might be a good source of income for Florida.

Blackjack fans, if Florida legalizes online gaming then it will provide much needed revenue. But it will also give the Seminoles a run for their money. Whereas Floridians and tourists would have to actually travel to the tribal casinos, any Floridian will be able to play from the comfort of their home. In other words it opens up the potential of generating more revenue.

But Florida isn’t the only state looking to the country’s citizens’ love of online gaming as a source of money to tap into. Recently Pennsylvania legalized table games—including blackjack—at their racinos and resorts. Kentucky is also allowing online gambling in a fashion.

But the point is that with revenue needed the States shouldn’t be too quick to turn their noses up at online gaming. This is now a popular form of entertainment and it’s best for the States to recognize it and tap into it.

To: The State of Florida, From: Blackjack Fans

This has been going on for awhile now. In the state of Florida the Seminole Tribe and state law makers are still in a stalemate about whether the Tribe should be allowed to have table games, including blackjack, in all seven of their casinos. I started following this closely. And then a little less closely. And a little less closely. Then it was just a part of my routine. The same things were being said over and over again.

Let me sum it up: In 2007 Florida Governor Charlie Crist stuck a compact with the Seminoles that allowed them to have table games. State law makers weren’t happy with Tribe casinos having what they viewed as a monopoly on table games within the state. Now, two years later, they’re still fighting over it. Like a tennis match. Back and forth. Specifically House Speaker Larry Cretul says that the governor had no such power to make such a deal with the Tribe. The Tribe says that the Supreme Court okay’s the compact and that they are operating within it. Florida says no, and the Seminoles say yes.

This morning I came across a news notice that Cretul wants the Tribe casinos shut down, saying that they are violating state law by continuing to operate without a compact. Again, the Tribe says that they are still operating within the 2007 compact. But what got me was here is this man, this House Speaker, that wants to cut off a source of much needed income for the state of Florida, money that can fund schools, money that can help to educate the state’s children.

He’s not alone either. Owners of dog racing tracks don’t want the Tribe operating either. They’re worried about losing business to the casinos because the Seminole casinos will have popular table games like blackjack and their race tracks won’t. What these dog track owners need to realize that while they might lose their customers that are at the tracks specifically to gamble, they will hold onto their fans who love to watch dogs run around a track. It seems like tracks owners don’t want to worry about competition. It’s almost like they want to be the only ones to offer gambling—which would give tracks the monopoly on gambling in Florida—this coming from track owners who believe that monopolies are bad.

Dog tracks are not Wal-Marts—they are not going to be able to offer every form of gambling avenue possible to gambling and blackjack fans. They can keep their dog races, which have their own following, and the Seminoles can have their table games like blackjack, which have a different following.

What everyone—Seminoles included—is that this state needs the money. Schools are suffering: teachers are being laid off, books are becoming out-dated, and schools are closing. Children are not receiving the knowledge they need to be productive members of society in a few years time. What these law makers, track owners and, yes, even the Seminoles need to be concerned about is the state’s children and their education, and not worry about how can line their pockets more.

I’m all for heading out to a casino and playing blackjack face to face with a dealer—sometimes you just need a break from online blackjack. But really what’s more important—profit or smarts? I’ll go with smarts, thanks. And while money for education comes from multiple sources, the Seminoles are willing to pay a couple million down to have the games and to keep contributing a good chunk of their profits from blackjack and other table games—and they designate that money to be put towards education. But the children’s interests first, guys and ladies.

I say if they’re willing to pay, let the Seminoles pay. Who are the state and track owners to say what is best for Florida gamblers? If we want to play, let us play. If the money I lose is going towards a teacher’s salary, show me to the blackjack tables! Let us play!