Category Archives: Tribal Gambling

Arizona Casino Operator Closes Three Properties after Covid-19 Death of Employee – Lack of mandated PPE requirements for gamblers cited

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the many ongoing impacts seen by Covid-19.  Las Vegas, a city built around casinos and gambling, set records for coronavirus cases when they partially opened, prompting the Governor to claim the city wasn’t ready to move to additional phases and safety had to be paramount.  They had very strict rules for personal protective equipment (PPE) and sterilization techniques for dice, chips and money handling in general.  Even still, they saw record case increases.  Now imagine if such stringent rules weren’t in place.  Unfortunately for one family, they didn’t have to imagine, as they lived through it when Arizona casinos opened with few safety measures in place, and and employee died from Covid-19 complications. A local Arizona source reports:

As of 2 a.m. Thursday, Gila River Hotels & Casinos shuttered all three of its properties for two weeks amid a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Arizona. Leaders at Gila River Hotels & Casinos declined The Arizona Republic’s repeated requests to confirm the number of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, saying that they will not disclose the information to “protect the privacy” of their workers. The announcement comes a week after a security guard at Lone Butte Casino died of complications related to COVID-19, according to his family.

Washington, who lived in Chandler, had returned to work in mid-May. His daughter, Lina Washington of Sacramento, said he was immediately concerned about safety measures at the casino. “The day after reopening, he was like, ‘Lina, it was awful, it was horrible. The line was around the corner. … Eighty percent of the people weren’t wearing masks,’” Lina Washington said.

Unlike some other casinos in the Phoenix area, Gila River Hotels & Casinos were only requiring employees to wear personal protective equipment. Customers were encouraged, but not mandated, to wear masks. Lina Washington said this left her father, who was diabetic and had recently beaten prostate cancer, exposed.

During the two week closure, casino officials will “reassess its current safety standards” after evaluating its safety plan with the Gila River Indian Community Council and receiving “feedback from its community and team members.”

This situation highlights the severity of the pandemic.  Too many people are dismissive of sound medical recommendations to do something as simple as wear a mask because they don’t view this as anything but a type of flu or a disease that won’t impact them.  A mask isn’t 100% effective of course, but it significantly reduces the spread of the virus and it’s one of the simplest recommendations that the casinos and other businesses can require for the proper protection of their employees and the community at large.  The worker’s daughter spoke to a local television program and helped cast the appropriate light on this pandemic’s severity:

In her grief and rage, Washington is calling out Gov. Doug Ducey and holding leadership accountable for what she views as a failure to protect Arizona’s most vulnerable residents from the pandemic. People like her 68-year-old father, who was diabetic and a cancer survivor. “This is very real,” she said. “This is not something where the elderly and vulnerable are disposable. This is not natural selection. These are people, these are parents, these are grandparents.”

Coronavirus cases are surging in Arizona; the rate of positive cases is one of the highest in the world right now. Gov. Ducey is coming under fire for not taking more aggressive steps to stem the infection’s spread, such as requiring the use of masks. “I don’t want anyone to have to experience (this) because of the ignorance and negligence and hubris of people who don’t believe this is real.” 

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Covid Concerns in Florida are Driving Discussions of Legalized Mobile Sports Betting Via Tribal Gambling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the various attempts at legalizing sports betting in Florida.  Most efforts have thus far failed, including attempts during the legislative session to open it at casinos.  Now that the coronavirus has shut down the economy and is keeping people indoors, the focus seems to have shifted to mobile sports betting.  An online source reports:  

The Seminole Tribe is currently in talks with state legislators to draft proposals on regulating mobile sports betting in the Sunshine State. The fallout from COVID-19 has devastated economic activity and led to widespread unemployment across Florida. In an attempt to make up the budget shortfalls, Florida legislators are eyeing out-of-the-box proposals such as regulated online betting activity.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida owns and operates the hugely successful Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. As lawmakers continue to work feverishly on crafting a budget for 2020/2021, unforeseen expenses and the shuttering of non-essential economic activity has ramped up financial pressures on state coffers. According to the New York Times, there are currently over 36,000+ cases of coronavirus in Florida, with 1,378+ deaths, and rising.

This push is viewed as a financial boon for the city looking for quick tax money and a financial windfall for the Seminole Tribe.  The estimates are in the hundreds of millions, but its still unclear if such gambling would actually be legal, given the amendment passed by Florida voters that requires a vote on new gambling expansion.  The online source continues: 

Nonetheless, it has widely been reported that the Seminole Tribe will be paying the $500 million for the first year and the $700 million every year thereafter to the state of Florida for exclusivity vis-a-vis online sports betting services.

Lawmakers hope that legislation permitting mobile sports betting can mitigate the effects of severe budget shortfalls that are currently being experienced. Back in 2018, Florida voters decided by a margin of 71%-29% that they will have the final say on any further gambling expansion a.k.a. /Amendment 3./

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Florida Casinos Criticized as Irresponsible during Covid-19 Pandemic by Waiting far too Long to Follow Government Orders

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the many ongoing gambling issues in Florida.  Most of those issues connect to public safety by way of gambling addiction.  However, with the recent coronavirus pandemic, Florida casinos have put public safety on the line in a devastating new way.  Despite social distancing orders, many casinos stayed open. After pressure, many decided to finally shut down. However, two remained open drawing the ire of leadership.  State Rep. Jackie Toledo condemned the casinos for staying open, and singled out The Hard Rock Casino in particular for their dangerous practices.   A local NBC affiliate provided the story:

State Rep. Jackie Toledo is condemning the Seminole Hard Rock Casino for remaining open during the coronavirus and says the casino is putting profits over people.

“There are reports from inside that there have been no changes to cleaning procedures and that sick employees are not being sent home,”Toledo said.

Toledo says employees approached her office, in fear for their jobs and health claiming the casino is business as usual with not practicing social distancing, no one actively disinfecting, and no posted signs about change in procedure.

The Seminole Nation claims they are providing a safe environment for workers, but the facts seem to contradict their claims.  An online source reports:

After receiving pleas from casino employees, State Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, hosted a news conference Wednesday outside the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa in the hopes of pressuring the casinos to close during the coronavirus outbreak.

Seminole Hard Rock CEO James Allen issued a statement saying that the casinos are following all hygiene protocols, have closed its poker room, limited the number of slot machines, canceled all concerts, poker competitions and tournaments, and is limiting the number of guests at game tables and in the hotel’s restaurants.

“This is the exact opposite of what we are hearing from inside the walls,” said Toledo. “Employees are claiming if they do not have PTO, the casino makes them work while they are sick. We are told by patrons there is no hand sanitizer, and we’ve heard from dealers saying they have been out of sanitation wipes for days. This is a breeding ground for this virus.”

She said she learned Wednesday that the casino gave away free drink tickets to draw in nearly 8,000 people. “It is criminal to hold promotions to bring vulnerable guests in their doors,” she said.

And it would appear Rep. Toledo was right about the public health concerns of creating a social environment in which the virus could spread.  The casino has now closed its doors, but only after a confirmed case stemmed from their facility. It’s currently unknown just how devastating the spread of covid-19 will be as a direct result of their actions, or inaction in this case. An online source explains:

Seminole Gaming announced Friday they would be closing all of their casinos, including Hard Rock casinos, across Florida starting at 6 p.m. amid coronavirus concerns

This comes just one day after a man who died from COVID-19 was said to have visited the Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee.

Representative Heather Fitzenhagen and an employee at the casino called for the casino to close down after learning this.

“I think that this makes it even more important that they decide to do the right thing and close down the casino for the safety of everyone in Southwest Florida,” she said.

She says the 77-year old man spent hours playing the slots the weekend

before he died on March 13.

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Florida Gov Looking Forward to Meeting with Seminole Tribe to Discuss Gambling Pact as Current Gambling Efforts Stall

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the many attempts to establish a feasible gambling pact between the Florida government and the Seminole tribe.  Most recentlythe Tribe ended payments to Florida after the state failed to properly eliminate a form of table gambling that the Seminole’s held exclusive rights to offer.  Attempts were made to come up with a deal, but nothing materialized. As this year’s legislative session nears close, the two parties find themselves in a similar situation, though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is hopeful that a meeting and a solution might be on the horizon.  An online source reports:

House and Senate leaders appear unable to reach agreement on a sweeping gambling deal, but Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t thrown in the towel.

For the second week in a row, the House Gaming Control Subcommittee canceled a scheduled Friday meeting, where any deal between the two chambers could have been revealed.

Discussions between legislative leaders have been ongoing, but the Seminole Tribe of Florida — a key player in any gambling deal — has not been part of the talks.

“I have not met with them yet. But I would like to have a resolution, and so I anticipate meeting with them in the not-too-distant future,” DeSantis told reporters Thursday. “I hope we can get something done. I think it would be good, if we can. But that is definitely on the agenda on the not-too-distant future.”

Gov. DeSantis believes this year the circumstances are different, and his administration has been given more time to properly evaluate the needs of both sides.  News 4 Continues: 

Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who will take over as Senate president in November, reached a deal with the Seminoles in the waning days of the 2019 legislative session. But DeSantis, who took office in January 2019, said he didn’t have enough time to vet the proposal before the session ended.

He said Thursday that he focused during his first session last year on “the things that I campaigned on,” which did not include a deal with the Seminoles.

“I got something very late, and there was just no way I was going to sign the state up for a 30-year agreement, 48 hours into it. So, I’ve had a chance to really understand what the state should benefit from it.

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UPDATE: Seminole Tribe Ends Payments to Florida After Failed Compact Negotiations: Special Legislative Session Talks Begin

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the recent news that the Florida legislative session would end with no gambling deal in place. The failure to renegotiate a deal has been an ongoing issue. At the core of the problem is that the Seminoles have exclusive rights to table games and certain gambling. Florida has not been enforcing this exclusivity and the courts sided with the Seminoles. However, the Seminoles have been acting in good faith, providing the state with the estimated $300 – $350 million annual payments the original agreement set up for such exclusivity. But now that the legislature has once again failed to stop others from offering designated card games, which is expanding gambling in the state, the Seminole tribe has decided to now stop providing the good faith payments. The Sun Sentinel reports:  

The tribe had warned it would halt the payments, which totaled nearly $330 million last year, because of controversial designated-player card games offered by many of the state’s pari-mutuel cardrooms. The Seminoles — and a federal judge — say the games violate part of a 20-year gambling deal by the tribe and the state in 2010. That deal, in part, gave the tribe exclusive rights to “banked” card games. 

The Seminole Tribe of Florida made good on threats Tuesday by telling Gov. Ron DeSantis it is quitting a long-standing revenue-sharing agreement with the state after negotiations on a new gambling deal went nowhere this spring. 

In a July 2017 settlement between the Seminoles and former Gov. Rick Scott, the state agreed to drop its appeal of Hinkle’s decision and to take “aggressive enforcement action” against pari-mutuels operating banked card games that violate state law. In exchange, the Seminoles agreed to continue making payments to the state until the end of this month. “Unfortunately, there has not been aggressive enforcement against those games, which have expanded since Judge Hinkle’s decision,” Osceola wrote.

Florida lawmakers considered this possible outcome, and made adjustments to the budget, but some believe the financial contribution, and the gambling restriction that comes from Seminole exclusivity, too import to not make an attempt to resolve the issue.   An online source explains:

State Representative Evan Jenne called for negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to reinstate the annual payments of an estimated $350 million suspended by the tribe after a failure to reach an agreement about the future of gambling in the state. “That’s just too much money to be left out there unaccounted for in our budget,” said the legislator.

Jenne, a Democrat who represents 99th District which include most of Hollywood and Southern Broward, said the suspension of payments from the tribe could have been avoided. “It was something that was a long time coming, it’s been talked about for quite some time it’s been nearly a decade since the compact would, should have been signed,” he said.

“They had a promised of exclusivity when it came to games like that and the state has not done their part in holding up that part of the bargain,” said Jenne.

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Florida Gambling Deal Fails to Pass this Legislative Session

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling negotiations between the Seminole tribe and Florida legislators. Many factors were at play, including a sports betting discussion that looked to circumvent a recent Florida Amendment requiring any new gambling legislation to be passed by a majority of the people. That plan, as well as other gambling issues that were being discussed, has ran out of time this legislative session. In the wake of the news, the only outstanding question is whether or not a special legislative session will be called to deal with any gambling related issues. As of now, it appears the intent is to wait until next year. The Tampa Bay Times reports:

With just days left in the annual legislative session, House Speaker José Oliva on Monday put to rest the possibility of passing a gambling deal. Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, also said he would prefer not to hold a special legislative session to try to pass a gambling bill, likely pushing the issue back to next year. “I think we simply ran out of time this year,” Oliva said.

The 2019 session is scheduled to end Friday. Powerful Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and representatives of the Seminole Tribe of Florida have negotiated for weeks on a deal that included the possibility of sports betting at the Seminoles’ casinos as well as at Florida racetracks and jai alai frontons, with the tribe acting as a “hub.” Allowing in-play sports betting, known as “proposition” or “prop” bets, at professional sports arenas also was part of the talks.

Gov. Ron DeSantis received an outline of a deal and met with numerous gambling-industry officials Friday. But revamping gambling laws is highly complicated as it involves numerous interests, including the Seminole Tribe and pari-mutuel operators. 

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Sports Betting and Other Major Provisions in the Florida Gambling Compact with the Seminole Tribe Could Prevent Deal

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to renegotiated the expired portion of the Seminole Gambling Compact. Several attempts have been made over the past few legislative sessions, but nothing has been established and they have been acting in good faith since.  As this year’s session approaches its end, the efforts to finalize a new compact have strengthened. As previously explainedit was suggested that sports gambling could be legalized in Florida without needing to involve a vote of the people. Tribal gambling is not regulated in the same way, so if they were to offer it, its believed that it could be a way to work around the need for voter approval. Florida Politics online explains:

Simpson acknowledged last week that the concept of allowing the tribe to run sports books at the state’s dog and horse tracks and jai alai frontons was intended to sidestep a constitutional amendment that passed in November requiring statewide votes on citizens’ initiatives that would expand casino-type gambling.

But [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, indicated the constitutional amendment adds another layer of analysis to an already-complicated legal deal that also encompasses serious policy-making decisions.

“Obviously, me and my staff we’re going through it, looking substantively (at) what it means, but also legally. As you know, there’s a lot of legalities that are involved in this. There is just a (constitutional) amendment that passed. You know, the question, does it apply to the tribe? Does it apply to this or that? So there’s a whole host of things I think that need to be vetted through, but prior to yesterday I had not seen the outline. We have it now and are going through it,” DeSantis said.

This sports betting provision in general, however, is being set up in a way that Florida Gov Ron DeSantis believes could cause problems. Florida Politics continues:

With time already an enemy, Gov. Ron DeSantis injected more uncertainty Tuesday into a gambling deal reached by a Senate Republican leader and a representative of the Seminole Tribe, suggesting its passage would be too heavy a “legislative lift.”

The governor said he and his staff have begun scrutinizing “a draft outline” of the agreement, which would open the door for sports betting in Florida, with the tribe acting as a “hub” for sports betting at the state’s pari-mutuels.

But the Republican governor appeared skeptical of some sports-betting provisions in the deal, which reportedly also would permit in-play betting at professional sports arenas.

The manner in which sports betting is set up “could really affect the integrity of the games,” said DeSantis, who, as an undergraduate played baseball for Yale University.

“If I can place a wager on whether the first pitch of a game is going to be a strike or not, well, hell, that’s a big moral hazard, because that’s not necessarily something that would affect the total outcome,” he added.

Clearly sports betting has its own set of issues, but that’s not the only sticking point for a successful compact. Designated player games also need addressed given the temporary agreement expires after May of this year. The Tampa Bay Times explains: 

But some issues opposed by pari-mutuels could imperil the deal’s success in the House, several lobbyists said.

Controversial “designated player” games offered at many of the state’s pari-mutuel cardrooms are a key element of the deal. The Seminoles — and a federal judge — have maintained that the card games violate a 2010 gambling agreement with the state that gave the tribe “exclusivity” over offering banked card games, such as blackjack.

Amid the dispute about designated player games, former Gov. Rick Scott entered an agreement with the tribe in which the Seminoles have continued to pay about $350 million a year to the state, which pledged to “aggressively enforce” how the games are played. But that agreement expires on May 31, and the House and Senate have not included the revenue in next year’s budget.

The deal under discussion would severely alter the way the card games are being played, making them virtually unprofitable for pari-mutuel cardrooms, sources said.

House Speaker José Oliva told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday afternoon that he had seen a “brief outline” of the gambling proposal.

The issues don’t stop there either. There are discussions to decouple horse racing in the same way dog racing was decoupled by the voters last election as well as other intertwined gambling issues. At the end of the day, Gov. DeSantis thinks it could simply be too many issues with too many parties to come to an agreement in time. The Tamp Bay Times continues:

To appease the pari-mutuels about the changes to the designed player games, the proposed agreement would also allow horse tracks to do away with horse races, while keeping lucrative activities like cardrooms and slot machines, which are legal at tracks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. It is unclear whether such “decoupling” would also apply to jai alai frontons. Dog tracks are already allowed to drop greyhound races, thanks to a voter-approved constitutional amendment passed in November.

The pari-mutuels would also be able to operate sports books, with a cut going to the tribe, but the profits from sports betting wouldn’t offset the losses from the changes in the designated player games, according to industry experts.

Under the agreement, the Seminoles would be able to add craps and roulette to other gambling activities currently underway at the tribe’s casinos. The tribe would agree to pay about $400 million a year to the state, an amount that could gradually increase to about $500 million a year. That’s a boost from the current revenue-sharing agreement with the tribe, but far less than what legislative leaders had originally envisioned.

The decisions by the House and Senate to not include the tribe’s annual payments in their budget proposals takes some pressure off negotiators as lawmakers work to hammer out a final budget in the coming days.

Senate President Bill Galvano on Tuesday afternoon told the News Service that Simpson was continuing to work on the gambling deal, which the president said was still in play.

But with just a week-and-a-half left before the legislative session is slated to end, DeSantis hinted that passage of a compact would be extremely difficult. 

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Tribal Casino Sues Video Gaming Company over Illegal Loot Box Gambling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing saga of the new gambling mechanic in video games know as loot boxes. This mechanic works by having players purchase boxes full of mystery items in video games. These boxes often cost real world money and the items coming out of the box can be garden variety or fairly useless in game items all the way to very powerful weapons or items that give players a leg up. There have been may instances where these items hold real world value and some examples exist of those items being sold for real money. So the player puts money in the game, pulls the box open lever, gets a random prize of various value and then the player trades those in for real world money, very possibly at a financial gain. Many would argue that the mechanic described is the same as gambling on a slot machine, and that’s the very foundation of for a tribal casino’s lawsuit is video game manufacture.   An online source explains how such a lawsuit could be brought forth: 

The Quinault Indian Nation has filed a lawsuit against Valve, the makers of Steam, claiming that it is running an unlicensed gambling operation and demanding payment for damages.

Okay, this gets a little complicated so settle in. The Quinault Indian Nation owns and operates a licensed casino in the state of Washington, one that is regulated by the Washington Gaming Commission. Valve is also based in Washington.

In its suit against Valve (via Geekwire), the Quinault Nation alleges that “Valve facilitated illegal, unregulated and unlicensed online gambling” when it launched skins for /Counter-Strike: Global Offensive /(/CS:GO/).

Back in 2013, Valve started releasing skins for weapons in /CS:GO/, these upgrades are purely cosmetic. Players would earn crates by playing /CS:GO /and these crates could then be opened with keys which Valve sold in its store. The keys were the only way to open the crates, and it made Valve a tidy bit of cash.

The Quinault Nation says that “the look, feel, sound and experience [of opening a crate] was basically an online slot machine”, providing YouTube footage of players opening crates to back up its claim.

What’s particularly striking in this case, is that seemingly at every level of the transaction, Value, the company being sued by Quinault Indian Nation, had their hand in guiding the process. An online source explains:

It points to the skin gambling sites that were launching and says Valve did nothing to stop them. “Valve had actual knowledge of the identity of the Valve accounts that gambling websites used to effectuate gambling transactions, and chose not to take any action against them,” the court documents state.

It goes on to claim that “Valve allowed gambling websites to use Valve accounts on Valve’s servers and Valve’s computers to effectuate gambling transactions” and that “Valve also provided technical support to gambling websites and real-money cash out websites, despite those websites violating Valve’s Steam Subscriber Agreement, and would return control of gambling websites’ Valve accounts back to the gambling website after being hijacked or hacked by other third parties.”

Despite simply providing an incredibly clear picture for those legislative and consumer protection bodies looking to best understand just how much these loot boxes are no different from gambling, the tribe also outlines exactly how it hurts not only their business with the State, but how doing so illegally without following state regulation further harms those involved. They conclude: 

The Nation has a contract with the State of Washington that means it must remain compliant with the state’s laws if it wants to operate casinos, and that compliance costs money. It has to “engage in responsible gaming, prevent fraud, prevent illegal gaming, and prevent underage gambling”. The Nation also pays 2% of its earnings in Impact Mitigation Funds, which go to paying support services in area around the casino.

If Valve is a gambling operation, like the Nation claims, then it is an unlicensed one and doesn’t incur any of the costs or the risks that come with a gambling license. The Nation is suing for damages, but also the money Valve obtained through gambling transactions.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Could Florida Legalize Sports Betting in a New Tribal Gambling Agreement?

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to renew the compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe, who has rights to exclusively offer various gambling table games. Parts of the compact have expired and both parties have generally been acting in good faith to honor the conditions lines out prior to their expiration (a few legal challenges aside). Even thought the tribe isn’t legally obligated to still provide certain payments to the state while a new compact is being worked through, they have still continued those payments. There are some in the state that want to see sports betting legalized in Florida after the recent Supreme Court ruling and its been suggested that these negotiations could allow for such legalization. An online source explains: 

There is neither a bill nor any proposal, but there is some ray of hope for *Florida* sports betting to sneak into the state’s short legislative session. A priority of the legislature is negotiating a new gaming compact with the *Seminole tribe*. *Senate President Bill Galvano* tells /Legal Sports Report/ he thinks legal sports betting would be part of any agreement.

“It’s definitely part of the discussion because that opportunity exists and they are as interested in participating in sports betting as other entities here in the state of Florida,” Galvano said. “We’re not at a point where we have a product agreed upon and know who gets that product, but we’re having those initial discussions and I think it’s something the tribe will want if we resolve this.”

Galvano was the key legislative negotiator of the 2010 compact with the Seminole. He tasked *Sen. Wilton Simpson* to meet with Seminole representatives to pursue a new compact. “Right now, from the state’s standpoint and speaking on behalf of the Senate, what is paramount is to see where we are ultimately with the tribe going forward,” Galvano said. “If we are able to restabilize that relationship, which provides substantial revenue to our state budget, then the opportunity is there for exploring sports betting in the state of Florida.”

The issue of which side would control this gambling is a more complicated matter as new gambling expansion must now be approved by the Florida voters. That change was made as a result of a statewide voter initiative last Nov when the measure passed by an overwhelming majority. They go on to explain: 

Complicating matters even further is a constitutional amendment Florida voters passed last November taking away the legislature’s authority to authorize casino gambling expansions in the state. *Marc Dunbar*, a government relations and gaming attorney who calls the Seminole a client, told /LSR/ that the only way FL sports betting can be offered without a constitutional amendment is through the tribes or the lottery.

Galvano indicated that the legislature would still attempt to move forward with a sports betting bill if it makes sense within the compact negotiation. He added that he had lawyers review the situation who think a reasonable argument can be made that sports betting doesn’t count as *Class III* casino gambling under Amendment 3.

“If we get within the red zone on a deal, the governor would engage and we would occupy the role of ratifying the compact, expansion on sports betting and any other changes in the parimutuel sector to come from the legislature,” Galvano said. “If it were to happen, it’s going to be pretty close to the end of the session before we can get everything lined up.”

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Seminole Deal Struck with Gov Scott, but Lawmakers still want a Special Gambling Session

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing negotiations between Florida State and the Seminole Tribe to reach a new gambling compact. The session ended with no formal deal in place, but it was expected the Seminoles would continue payments as normal. Gov Rick Scott worked directly with the Tribe after the session ended and has announced a formal agreement to continue payments through next year. An online source reports: 

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. *Rick Scott* announced that the state had extended its casino revenue sharing agreement with the Seminoles through May 2019. The agreement, which was signed in 2017, calls for the tribe to provide the state with around $300m per year in exchange for exclusive rights to certain gaming products.

Scott said the agreement “ensures the Tribe’s current commitment remains intact” but Scott stressed that Wednesday’s deal “does not make any changes to state gaming law or expand current gaming operations in Florida in any way.”

The 2017 agreement was itself a stopgap deal due to the inability of state legislators to approve a new gaming compact with the tribe, which operates the Hard Rock International family of casinos.

However, this action doesn’t appear to have stopped discussions by the legislature to convene a special session to address gambling. The Tampa Bay Times explains: 

The agreement, however, doesn’t look like it’s going to stop talk of a gaming special session sometime in the next month. House and Senate leaders face an expensive election cycle that could benefit from gaming industry contributions, and they are staring down a constitutional amendment that, if voters approve, could take away their control over gaming expansion in Florida.

“The discussions on the special session are continuing,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the incoming Senate president and the Senate’s key negotiator.

Galvano now says the reason for a special session has more to do with Amendment 3. The constitutional amendment is backed primarily by Disney Worldwide and as the support of the Seminole Tribe. If it gets the 60 percent of the vote needed to become law, legislators will have less influence over all gaming decisions, and the political fundraising that comes from the pari-mutuel industry could shrink.

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Seminole Compact Deal Seems Unlikely Given Florida Legislators are Shifting Full Focus to the Parkland School Shooting

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to fully renew the Seminole Gambling Compact and officially lock in various gambling exclusivity agreements with the Tribe, the most prominent being designated player card games.  Recent legislation was proposed and pushed that was an attempt to allow exclusive deals for the Seminoles at their casinos, while allowing para-mutuel operators to offer designated player games and even end greyhound racing. The Sun-Sentinel reports:

The Florida Legislature is showing its hand in another attempt to bring the Seminole Tribe into a new, lucrative gambling agreement with the state.

Th new deal would potentially end greyhound racing, bring craps and roulette to Seminole casinos and allow designated-player games.

Under a draft agreement the tribe has shown several state lawmakers, it would now be willing to consider designated-player games and fantasy sports leagues such as FanDuel and DraftKing, both of which it had previously said were in violation of its agreement with the state.

Given the court appointed deadlines and Amendment 3, which seems likely to pass and would take the power away from the legislators and into the hands of the people, this was viewed as the key time to strike a deal. An online source explains:

The first deadline is a 2015 federal court order that allows the Seminoles to stop making $250 million in annual revenue-sharing payments to the state by the end of March if lawmakers don’t curtail the growth of ”designated player” games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack, in cardrooms across Florida. The next comes in November when voters are presented with a proposed “No Casinos” constitutional amendment that would require 60 percent approval of a ballot measure to expand gambling, essentially removing legislators from the decision-making process regarding casinos. Therefore, if lawmakers are to make significant changes to gambling regulations and renew the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, the time to do so is now or, maybe, it will be never.

The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved a 90-page gambling bill earlier this week that gives the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s seven casinos the exclusive right to offer craps and roulette while allowing pari-mutuel facilities statewide to run “designated player” card games.

As it turns out, however, the timeline has become even more doubtful given the tragic Parkland school shooting. The Florida legislature is wisely shifting focus to discuss and address potential solutions to help protect Florida families from similar future tragedies. The budget also needs to be passed, so the window for gambling appears to be rapidly closing.   An online source explains: 

The Florida high school shooting that left 17 people dead last week has another potential casualty—the state’s gambling legislation.

Florida Politics reported that Florida’s gambling bill is on life support after legislators decided to shelve all pending bills on their desks in order to prioritize a legislative response to the February 14 mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.

With only three weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, legislators are scrambling to enact a law that will allocate $100 million funding for the state’s mental health screening, counseling and training, and the “hardening” of Florida schools.

After passing the bill, lawmakers will then need to squeeze in discussions on the state budget within a limited time. With their hands full, Florida House Speaker-designate José Oliva is much less optimistic that they will get something done on gambling in the next three weeks.

“A lot of our bandwidth is going to be taken up,” Oliva said, according to FloridaPolitics.com. “We still have a budget to pass, and obviously we’ve got some sort of bipartisan bill that we have to pass dealing with the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas.”

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Florida Bill Seeks to Legalize Daily Fantasy Sports, but Might Violate the Seminole Gambling Compact

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the various attempts at legalization of Daily Fantasy Sports DFS), especially in Florida, a state that has been heavily lobbied due to major DFS companies DraftKings and FanDuel physically residing there. Last January an attempt was made to officially legalize, but it never materialized. New efforts have surfaced and have now passed committee. Florida Politics reports:

A proposal to exempt fantasy sports from state gambling regulation cleared a Senate committee Thursday—but with one notable opponent.

“I don’t think the issues raised are clear,” said Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican and vice-chair of the *Regulated Industries Committee, which handles gambling policy.

Aside from Hukill’s ‘no’ vote, that committee otherwise moved the bill (SB 374) by *Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, on an 8-1 vote. Similar measures (SB 840 223) have been filed for the upcoming Legislative Session.

In the online games, players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.

Asked to clarify her position after the meeting, Hukill said, “Is this a game of skill or not? I don’t think that’s clear, at least for now.”

The issue isn’t as simple as legislation clarifying if it’s a game of skill or change and gambling or simple recreation. There is also the issue of the major gambling compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe. They have issued a letter that clearly outlines they view Fantasy Sports as gambling and in violation of the compact and they have threatened to withhold payments to the state if such gambling expansion is pushed through by the legislature. On online source explains:

In a Tuesday letter to the state officials, the Seminole Tribe made it clear that the regulation of sports contests is to violate the tribe’s exclusive rights and the Seminole is to stop making payments to the state. The letter was signed by the Tribe’s general counsel Jim Shore and addressed to Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Mike La Rosa. The letter points out that the bill is to reduce the Tribe’s exclusivity. Furthermore, it states that the tribe is ready to discuss the issue with the state representatives. According to the letter, the bill is to violate Part XII of the 2010 Gaming Compact between the State and Tribe.

At present, the state reaps more than $200 million per year for granting gambling exclusivity to the tribe. Supposing that the state to tax daily fantasy sports contests, the tribe threatened to cease payments to the state. Industry insiders believe that the tribe’s warnings may change the officials’ stance on the matter and the DFS regulation may hit the rail. This seems to be the likely scenario as Florida is eyeing DFS regulation since 2015. Two years later, the bill is pending a stamp by the local government. 

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Update: Florida Voters in Charge Amendment Reaches State Signature Requirement and Receives backing from Disney and Seminole Tribe

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing progression of signatures gathered to place a new amendment on the Florida ballot aimed and controlling gambling better in the state. The proposal would require any gambling legislation passed by the Florida Government to get a vote of the people to pass. Disney has been a backer of the amendment and now it appears the Seminole Tribe has joined in support. The Tribe has a vested interest in keeping gambling to a minimum, given they are one of only a few means to gambling in the state. Still, they have had a difficult time recently with the Florida government adhering to the agreement to keep certain gambling activities restricted in the state, so its unsurprising that they would back additional gambling expansion safeguards. In addition to their support, its being reported that the Voters in Charge amendment has reached the signature threshold to allow the measure to be voted on by the people. An online source explains: 

Voters in Charge is pushing the Voter Control of Gaming Amendment. If the group can obtain the necessary 766,200 signatures to put the issue before voters, Florida residents would decide next fall on the forcing all future gaming expansion to be decided by the voters directly. Outside of the state lottery, parimutuel racinos, and Native American casinos, gambling is supposed to be illegal in Florida. But state lawmakers have gotten crafty in recent years, allowing for parimutuel venues to dance a fine line between racetrack or jai-alai fronton and full-fledged casino.

Well-funded by the Seminoles and Disney, Voters in Charge seems to have plenty of support to get the ballot question before voters. The group said in a release that it has obtained 860,203 signatures, far more than the 766,200 needed. Voters in Charge Chairman John Sowinski said election officials are currently in the process of validating the signatures.

A poll this year found that 84 percent of Floridians “want to reduce or hold the line on gambling.” While this research was commissioned by a lobbying firm working closely with the anti-casino activist group, they now have support from the biggest pro-casino group in the state in an effort to maintain the competitive status quo. 

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Florida goes after Pari-Mutuels as it Seeks to Enforce Designated-Player Card Games Ruling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing and developing situation regarding designated player banked card games. This form of card game was offered for four years before its legality was challenged. Last year, however, the court determined the games to be illegal and a violation of the Seminole Compact which outlined exclusive card games at Seminole casinos. As recently reported by Casino Watch Focus that ruling is being challenged in appeals court and is set to be heard next month. In the mean time, swift enforcement has begun to stop these illegal card games. An online source explains:

Florida gambling chiefs have launched legal action against two pari-mutuel venues, the Sarasota Kennel Club and Pensacola Greyhound Racing, for their alleged failure to remove so-called “designated player games” from their premises.

Meanwhile, many of Florida’s other cardrooms and racetracks are bracing themselves for similar action, as the state moves to crack down on the controversial games.

This action is especially important given litigation was dropped by the Seminole’s in exchange for the state agreeing truly enforce the courts ruling. The online source continues:

The case had initially been brought by the State against the Seminoles for their refusal to stop offering banked games once their initial five-year compact expired in 2015. But the tribe countersued over the exclusivity violation, forcing the state into a humiliating retreat. In July, both parties agreed to an end to litigation and the state vowed it would take “aggressive enforcement action” against pari-mutuels that violated the ban on the games it had previously permitted.

Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist for Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, told Sunshine State News that the state’s actions this week show it intends to live up to its word. “They’re going to come in. They’re going to check tape. They’re going to watch games being played live. And if they see anything out of compliance being done, they’re going to issue administrative complaints and fines,” he said. “So everybody is double- and triple-checking to make sure they’re in compliance.” 

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Florida Casino Expansion denied in Gambling Permit Case

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the efforts to expand gambling in Florida. The state has an agreement with the Seminole’s to allow tribal casinos in state, but other gambling efforts are more small scale and limited to horse and dog racing as well as various pari-mutual gambling locations. Efforts also took place to bring full-scale, Vegas style casino’s to the area and those too were shut down. That hasn’t stopped outside companies from trying to find new ways into the Florida market. The most recent example involves the sale of a license with the intent to move a facility and expand gambling greatly. The Saint Peters Blog has explained those efforts and how they have been shut down:

State gambling regulators this week shot down a request by a South Florida gambling permit holder who wanted sell the permit and allow the next operator to build on a new location in Broward County.

The *Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Monday said both sales of permits and any relocation of gambling—both time-consuming processes—have to be OK’d by the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling in the state. The decision further cements the state’s control over where and how gambling is offered, particularly after a permit is granted.

The department’s “final order” also is a win for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which asked to intervene in the case. The Seminoles, who operate the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, had said allowing gambling licenses to be moved within a county “would provide out-of-state companies (with) an incentive to (buy) a license, possibly resulting in increased business competition for the Tribe.”

The company has a deal with an unnamed buy who was hoping to build a casino in a new location. The buyer knows it needs to relocate and build a new casino to be profitable, so this likely means the deal is off and there wont be significant new casino gambling expansion facing Florida families. 

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