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Blackjack, card games hit Seminole Hard Rock in June

Gamblers will begin playing the first legal games of blackjack and other "banked'' card games in Florida on June 22 at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood.

The South Florida casino owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida plans to start with 72 tables, most for blackjack but also for baccarat and variations of poker. Hundreds of thousands of new players will flock to its casinos to play the new games, the tribe said.

"Las Vegas-style casinos will now be at the doorstep of the residents of Florida," said Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen. "Floridians won't have to go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City to play their favorite casino games.''

Local gamblers must wait until "late fall to November'' of 2008 for blackjack and the other games to reach the Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa, Allen said this morning. The casino will have 70 to 100 tables and hire 800 to 1,000 new employees above the current 2,200, he said.

Banked card games, in which players compete against the house, are allowed exclusively at the tribe's seven casinos in Florida under a deal signed in November by Gov. Charlie Crist and Seminole Tribe chairman Mitchell Cypress.

The agreement, called a compact, was blessed in January by the Interior Department, which regulates gambling on tribal lands. For now, the Seminoles have discussed plans for the new games only at the two Hard Rock-branded casinos.

The deal also allows Las Vegas-style slot machines. Two weeks after receiving federal approval, the tribe put the first ones in Hollywood, replacing older bingo-based machines. The new slots came to Tampa in April and now make up half the casino's 3,200 electronic gaming devices.

The compact and the card games specifically are being challenged in separate lawsuits. House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, asked the state Supreme Court in November to throw out the compact. They contend Crist overstepped his authority by signing it without the Legislature's approval.

Earlier this week, Pompano Park's Isle Casino in Broward County sued Crist and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in federal court in Tallahassee. Casino owners contend the federal government can't sanction games in a state where they are illegal off Indian land.

Their suit isn't slowing down the tribe's plans. With the compact's publication in the Federal Register in January, "it is the law and it is legal,'' Allen said.

In addition to blackjack and baccarat, casino dealers also will offer mini-baccarat, pai gow poker, Let It Ride and three-card poker.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Blackjack, card games hit Seminole Hard Rock in June 06/06/08 [Last modified: Sunday, June 8, 2008 12:32pm]
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