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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

DBPR secretary won't explain why the state reversed position on card games



A day after issuing complaints at only seven of the 18 pari-mutuels that have been authorized to operate player banked poker games, Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson refused to elaborate on why and how he came to the conclusion that the games that his agency had previously approved had all of a sudden been ruled in violation of state law.

“After reviewing operations and obtaining additional information at pari-mutuel facilities throughout the state, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering discovered violations of Florida law resulting in administrative complaints,''  Lawson said in a statement to the Herald/Times. "We will continue to administer the law and maintain our opposition to unauthorized activity conducted at any facility licensed by the state.”

The card games -- which include three-card poker, two-card poker, Casino War and Pai Gow poker -- were brought to Florida by Palm Beach Kennel Club in 2012 and soon were copied by other card rooms. They are popular because they have the feel of a casino game as players bank against each other. By 2014, Lawson's agency proposed rules to place limits on the games but that was challenged in court. The challenge led to a settlement and DBPR adopted a new rule approving and regulating the games in 2014.

As part of the approval process, regulators visited cardrooms, sought modifications in the game and clarifications in an attempt to make sure they were in compliance with state gaming laws, those involved in the activity told the Herald/Times.

As the Seminole Tribe was working to reach agreement with the state to continue operating its black jack and other table games, it filed a lawsuit alleging that the player-banked card games were an expansion of gambling and a violation of the existing compact. The state continued to allowed the games to operate after the lawsuit was filed, but after Gov. Rick Scott signed a new compact in December, the agency also moved to repeal the rule it had previously approved on player-banked games. The repeal is also being challenged.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, told reporters he had questions about DBPR's action after it was raised by Jacksonville Racing CEO Howard Korman before the committee on Wednesday. Korman said that he was surprised by the action because the agency had not only approved the operation of the card games, but observed how they were operated before they gave the approval. 

"We had our internal controls approved and it wasn't until just recently that all of a sudden they said no,'' he said.

Bradley said he wanted to know "what is it that precipitated them moving in this direction at this point in time? Is it a philosophy that what they are doing before was inconsistent with the current state law and, if so, which law and what do they see happening from a factual standpoint that would draw that conclusion?"

The Herald/Times presented those questions to Lawson today, as well as our own questions. He chose to answer none of them. Our questions: 

* There are other parimutuels that operate player banked games in Florida other than the ones that were served with your complaint. Will these all be served? If not, how did you decide which to choose and which not? Why the timing difference?
* Please provide me with a rationale for why the department chose to reverse its position on this issue? 
* Will the department be using taxpayer money to defend these complaints in court? 

[Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2016 8:16pm]


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