The Seminole Tribe’s lawsuit against Florida over failed negotiations on a gambling deal is moving forward after a federal judge refused to toss the case.
In a five-page order last week, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle rejected a request from Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office to dismiss the case.
The legal dispute stems from a 2010 gambling agreement, known as a “compact,” between the state and the Seminoles. A part of the deal giving tribal casinos the exclusive rights to offer banked card games, such as blackjack, expired this summer. After the end of a 90-day grace period that allowed the tribe to continue offering the games, the Seminoles filed a lawsuit in October in federal court in Tallahassee.
The lawsuit accused the state of acting in “bad faith” about negotiations on a new gambling deal and asked a judge to allow the tribe to keep offering the card games. Less than a week later, the state filed a separate lawsuit in Tampa, seeking to stop the games.
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The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires states to negotiate in good faith with tribes seeking gambling authority. Florida argued that the federal law only requires states to negotiate initial compacts but not to renegotiate deals when they expire.
“The contention is plainly wrong,” Hinkle wrote.
States are expected to negotiate an extension or a new compact as a compact nears its end, Hinkle wrote.
“Any reading of the act that would suggest a state has no duty to negotiate at that time would make no sense — it would mean that when a state’s first compact with a tribe ended, the state would be relieved of any obligation to negotiate a new or extended compact,” he wrote.
Hinkle also consolidated the tribe's lawsuit and the state's lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee, with a trial scheduled to start in July.
Amid the legal battling, Gov. Rick Scott and the tribe last month announced they had reached a new agreement that would allow the Seminoles to add craps and roulette at tribal casinos in exchange for $3 billion to the state over seven years. But the deal requires the authorization of the Legislature, and Republican leaders in both chambers have said that the proposed compact would have to be modified to get lawmakers' approval.
A Senate committee is expected to discuss the compact at a meeting next week. Lawmakers are in session through March 11.
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA