Florida’s “Player-Banked Card Games” become Major Legal Focus

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the exclusive gambling agreement the Seminole Tribe has with Florida.  The state allows the Seminole Tribe to hold exclusive rights to various table and card games in exchange for guaranteed revenue for the state. A few years back, gambling regulators authorized a type of card game known as “player-banked card games.”  Various card games were made legal if the players played against themselves, not the house.  Now several years removed from the initial regulations, its become a major legal focus for the industry, as pari-mutuels are clearly taking part in the games by acting as the bank instead of the players.  The Panama City News Herald reports:

Gambling regulators and a pari-mutuel operator at odds over the legality of popular card games, first authorized by the state more than four years ago, pitched their cases to an administrative law judge on Tuesday. The issue involves “designated-player card games,” also known as “player-banked card games,” which include a hybrid of three-card poker and resemble casino-style card games but are played among gamblers instead of against the house.

State regulators contend that the card games themselves are legal, but the way they are being operated is too much like “banked” games, which are illegal anywhere in Florida except for the Seminole Tribe’s casinos.

State regulators filed legal action over a year ago that extended to seven pari-mutuels.  This specific legal action is a test case involving just one operator, Bestbet Jacksonville.  The issue seems to clearly boil down to the intent of what legislators authorized versus the process the pari-mutuels have implemented.  The News Herald explains:

According to regulators, the designated players —- who have a “break room” at the Jacksonville facility and never touch the cards —- are actually employees of unlicensed, third-party companies, something not envisioned when the state first approved the games. “They text. They talk. They don’t play the games at all. Sometimes the designated player will get up and leave in the middle of a hand and be replaced by another designated player,” Department of Business and Professional Regulation lawyer William Hall said during opening arguments Tuesday.

Some pari-mutuels require players to put up $50,000 in order to serve as the designated player, indicated by a “button” on the card table. And some require five times that amount in order to pass the “button” to another player, Hall said Tuesday. The designated player companies are “basically running a business in the card room,” Hall told Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk, likening the “button” used to identify the designated player at the Jacksonville facility as “a glorified paperweight” used “to hold the cards down.”

“Our theory is that they have established a bank” in which the designated player is “really not a player,” Hall said. “It’s just someone sitting by chips so that the dealer can pay out of them. If that’s not a bank, I don’t know what is,” he said.

The position taken by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is fairly simple, if the action is illegal and clearly not the intent of state regulators, then it needs fixed even if they have operated this way for the past four years.  News 4 Jax explains:

Even if state regulators signed off on a popular type of card game years ago, that doesn’t make the games legal, a Department of Business and Professional Regulation attorney told an administrative law judge on Wednesday. “If the petitioner (the department) allowed something that should not have been allowed, shame on us,” Department of Business and Professional Regulation lawyer William Hall told Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk during closing arguments Wednesday.

Regulators in February sent cease-and-desist letters to six designated-player companies, ordering them to “cease conducting business activities related to the providing of designated players for the establishment of a bank in licensed cardrooms in this state.” “By providing this service your business is assisting the cardrooms in establishing a bank, and violating the law. Although individuals are free to participate in authorized games within licensed facilities, your business interest and active participation in the establishment of a bank is strictly prohibited,” the letter read.

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