What's the deal with blackjack at Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Casino? Or maybe the better question is: When does the dealing begin?
Fifty-six card tables, mostly in groups of 12 with a center podium, stood empty Friday amid flashing, beeping slot machines on the main gaming floor. Workers set up more behind a black curtain in a corner of the casino near the Whammy Bar.
The buzz among gambling professionals was that hundreds of dealers received work schedules this week and the card games — blackjack, baccarat and variations of poker — will kick off this month.
"They plan to open Nov. 17," said Dave Czarnecki, general manager of Horizon's Edge Casino Cruise in Treasure Island. "It's full-ahead go."
The Seminole Tribe of Florida issued a terse statement Friday saying it didn't have any information about the tables.
"We have no information about table games at the Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa," tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said in response to questions from the Times.
The tribe won the right to offer house-banked card games and Las Vegas-style slots under a gambling agreement, called a compact, signed with Gov. Charlie Crist last November.
On June 22, Florida's first legal games of blackjack began at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood. Eleven days later, the Florida Supreme Court upheld a challenge to the compact by legislative leaders. Justices ruled Crist overstepped his authority by allowing the card games.
The new games continued. As a sovereign nation, the Seminoles are not under the state's authority. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum asked the National Indian Gaming Commission to stop gambling he considers illegal without a valid compact.
Besides being illegal, he said, it would be a political blunder for the Seminoles to "stick it in the eye of the state" while seeking to negotiate a new compact with leaders in the Legislature next session.
Three weeks ago, Bitner said there was no date or timetable for starting blackjack and the other games in Tampa. But Tim Neal, a Hard Rock regular from Dunnellon, figured something was up Monday when he saw workers moving out slot machines and bringing in new boxes.
"What I really enjoy about blackjack is your money lasts longer," said Neal, who also makes several trips to Las Vegas each year.
"The house wins only 51 or 52 percent of the time."
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.