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Gambling | Plans on hold

Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Casino postpones addition of blackjack

Bobby Henry of the Seminole Tribe plays as Phillip Moss deals blackjack at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

Associated Press

Bobby Henry of the Seminole Tribe plays as Phillip Moss deals blackjack at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

Gamblers at Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Casino won't double down any time soon.

Seminole Tribe of Florida gaming officials targeted the Tampa casino this summer as its second location for blackjack and other new card games by year's end, with as many as 1,000 additional jobs.

But plans now are on hold for expanding games beyond the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, which in June began dealing Florida's only legal "banked" card games in which gamblers play against the house.

"There's no date or decision yet," said Gary Bitner, spokesman for the tribe. "It's still subject to what happens politically and legally."

The Florida Supreme Court in July threw out a compact signed by the tribe and Gov. Charlie Crist that let the Seminoles operate Las Vegas-style slot machines and casino card games in return for paying the state at least $100-million annually.

The court ruled that Crist overstepped his constitutional authority by letting the tribe offer card games that are illegal elsewhere in the state.

Barry Richard, attorney for the Seminoles, says the tribe still has a compact recognized by the federal government and intends to continue the new games. The state lacks authority to stop it because the tribe is a sovereign nation.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is asking the National Indian Gaming Commission to shut down the new slots and card games, called Class III gaming, until the state approves a valid compact with the Seminoles.

"The tribe has brazenly continued its illegal Class III gaming based on its belief that there will be no meaningful federal enforcement actions," he wrote in a letter Tuesday to Penny J. Coleman, the commission's acting general counsel.

Seminole officials have asked the commission to hold off until they can try to hammer out a compact with legislative leaders.

"It sits now in the hands of the Florida Legislature,'' said attorney Chris Kise, who represented Crist in the Supreme Court case.

Before the court decision, Seminole officials said the tribe would hire 3,650 employees to run the card games. Tampa's Hard Rock alone would get 800 to 1,000 new workers above the current 2,200 to operate 70 to 100 tables.

The card games have brought nearly 1,000 new hires, mostly in Hollywood, said Bitner, the tribe spokesman.

Gamblers had heard rumors of the delay but couldn't get employees to talk.

"It's a shame," said Jeanne Neal, who makes the 90-minute drive to the casino from Dunnellon at least once a week. "I like to play pai gow poker … and would go less to Vegas if they had it. But by not having it here won't keep people from gambling."

Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Casino postpones addition of blackjack 10/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 8:37pm]
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