Florida Legislature All About Money

Florida is suffering from a $3.2 billion shortfall in its budget, which includes a very hard hit to education. The problem? Florida’s children risk a loss of teachers and programs, and even some scholarships.

With that in mind, Governor Charlie Crist made that his push behind the Seminole blackjack and slots compact in his talks with the state’s Legislature. He was known to say, “Do it for the children.”

The first two compacts that the Seminoles and state Legislature have squabbled over have both gone bust. Then all of a sudden here is a third compact and it’s heading for approval.

This third run at a compact would give the Seminoles five years of exclusivity for blackjack tables, and twenty years for Vegas-style slots; the only other places in Florida where slots can be found is in two counties in which voters had already approved Vegas-style slots within county lines. In exchange for this blackjack exclusivity the Seminoles are going to be paying Florida more than $1 billion dollars over five years.

However you can’t make everyone happy. And this time around it was the pari-mutuels who felt that they would be unable to compete with the Seminoles’ casinos if they were given exclusivity to blackjack and slots, even with higher poker limits and extended hours of operation. Initially it appeared that the Legislature was siding with the pari-mutuels. But the truth always comes out.

So what made this third compact agreeable to the state Legislature? It wasn’t the extensions or even the possible tax break for the pari-mutuels. The Legislature was never on the side of the pari-mutuels. What has been over-looked is where that $1 billion plus dollars for blackjack exclusivity are going. And it’s not going to the children.

The Legislature has been out for money the whole time. It seems its hang up didn’t have to do with the pari-mutuels feeling like the compact was unfair. It had to do with where the money was going. Change the money’s destination and the Legislature likes the compact now.

So where is the money from the Seminoles exclusivity to blackjack going?

It will be going into the state’s general revenue fund. That means that the state government *cough, cough* Legislature can decided how the money is to be spent. It’s a sad day when part of the government is willing to short fall their children’s education so that they can have power of this money.

More Opposition to the Seminole’s Blackjack

While the most recent bill to settle the long-standing conflict between the State of Florida and the Seminoles works its way through the House and soon the Senate, more voices are coming forward to cry out against the Seminole’s exclusivity.

If the bill runs its course through the House, the Senate and finally to Governor Charlie Crist, the Seminoles would have to pay $1.5 billion over five years to have exclusivity to games like blackjack. There would be an immediate payment to the state of $435 million. And with a $3.2 billion gap in the Florida budget the money is needed—particularly for education.

However there are two groups that are very much against the Seminoles winning this exclusivity—one for greed and one for the good of our own morale well-being.

The first group is comprised of the pari-mutuels of Florida. The dog and horse tracks have been a part of Florida’s gambling culture for decades. But the last few years there has been a decline in interest at the dog and horse tracks.

This could be for a couple of reasons. 1. The people are no longer interested in betting on dog and horse races, and have been attracted to the Vegas-style games like blackjack that can now be found within their own state—no more travelling to Vegas or Atlantic City for the casino experience. 2. With the increase in awareness of animal abuse, many people feel that the treatment of dog and horses in the races are not treated humanely, and that the races themselves are inhuman.

Pari-mutuels fear losing business to the tribe casinos. They fear that they won’t be able to compete. Unfortunately, times change and people’s interest changes. While the tracks site that they will be forced to cut jobs due to a loss of income thanks to the Seminoles and their blackjack tables, the tribe casinos will be in the position to create new jobs under this compact.

Now the other group of opponents that are trying to save us from ourselves. Members of Florida Family Action and the Florida Baptist Convention, along with other opponents, want the entire deal scrapped, saying that offering Vegas-style games like blackjack will increase family problems through addictions and will increase crime.

But what they’re forgetting is that Florida is at odds with the Seminoles, a sovereign nation. And they can’t be at odds forever. The battle over the Seminoles exclusivity to blackjack has to end because Florida can’t be at odds with a sovereign nation within its borders.

There is also Florida’s history of gambling to consider. The state has had dog and horse tracks for decades. Floridians have been gambling for decades. They want to gamble and forcing them to outside of the state will mean a loss of income for Florida.

It seems that these morally opposed groups feel that the only way to gamble is often and with large sums of money. Apparently they haven’t heard of playing as a form of entertainment or of low-stakes games.

And what about the much needed money for the state? Are Florida’s children supposed to suffer because a handful of groups want to tell us what is good for us?

But the opponents to the Seminoles having exclusivity to blackjack will have to come to terms with it because it seems this compact is going to go through and be signed. It appears that Florida knows its children need their education.

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.

Suing for Blackjack Losses

Normally I’m on the players’ side when it comes to issues between casinos and blackjack players. However, when I read this, there was no way I could side with the players.

Attorney Michael Trentalange is suing on behalf of two of his clients for losses at Seminole casinos–$15,000 in losses.

Trentalange believes the Seminoles to be in violation of state law because of their blackjack tables. The Seminole compact with Governor Charlie Crist was ruled to be invalid by the Florida Supreme Court. But the Department of Interior, which has say on Indian gambling, has said that the compact is legal. So the Seminoles say that they’re operating legally and that their blackjack tables are fine.

Naturally Trentalange is going with the story that the compact isn’t legal and that the Seminoles having blackjack is a violation of law. He’s found a statute that allows gamblers and their families to sure to recover gambling losses if the gambling was in violation of the law.

So Trentalange is saying that because the Seminole compact isn’t legal neither are the blackjack tables. And since his clients lost their $15,000 playing blackjack at a Seminole casino and the gambling was illegal due to an invalid compact, his clients can sue.

My thoughts: 1. Trentalange, if he wins, which I’m going to be he won’t, he’ll make a nice chunk of that $15,000, 2. I’m going to bet his clients weren’t using basic strategy if they lost $15,000, 3. If you’re going to gamble you go in to it knowing that you’re probably going to lose money—stop being a sissy about it, suck up the fact that you lost and move on.

But Trentalange isn’t even taking on the Seminoles! Even though he says that they’re the ones in the wrong because their blackjack tables are illegal, he’s suing Clear Channel Outdoor for their billboards promoting blackjack at the Seminole casinos, Bally Technology for tracking players’ wins and losses, and Chipco International for making the playing chips.

That’s the part that makes me laugh. Trentalange isn’t even suing the Seminole whose blackjack tables, according to him, are illegal. The Seminoles would have been the ones to collect on the players’ losses so logically you would think that Trentalange would go after the Seminoles to get his clients’ illegally obtained losses back.

Oh, no! He goes after an advertising firm for advertising what they were paid to advertise (I do believe that the point of an advertising firm is to advertise what their customers pay to have advertised); a tracking company for tracking players’ wins and losses just like in every casino, including the legal ones; and a chip company because their chips were used in these blackjack games.

It’s hilarious! This lawyer is suing everyone around the Seminoles that didn’t take his clients’ money rather than attempt to go after the Seminoles. And the reason he’s not suing the Seminoles is because he knows he can’t call their blackjack table illegal, sue them and win. He knows it.

It’s laughable that this lawyer is trying to get his clients’ money back from places it didn’t go; and it’s laughable that these clients are having a hissy fit because they gambled and lost. It’s blackjack! It’s gambling! You are going to lose some money—especially if you play without a strategy.

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.