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U.S. attorney in Tampa is asked to fold new Seminole card games

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is asking the U.S. attorney in Tampa to close down new card games, such as blackjack, at the Seminole Tribe's Tampa Hard Rock and Collier County casinos.

The state Supreme Court in July struck down a gambling agreement signed by the tribe and Gov. Charlie Crist that sanctioned Las Vegas-style games at seven Seminole casinos. Crist overstepped his authority by allowing illegal "banked'' card games without legislative approval, the court ruled.

Since then, the tribe has expanded the games — blackjack, baccarat and others in which gamblers play against casino dealers — beyond the original location at Seminole Hard Rock Casino near Hollywood.

Without prior announcement, the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa opened 104 card tables last month. On Dec. 5, the tribe unveiled 12 tables at its casino in Immokalee, near Fort Myers.

In a letter Wednesday, McCollum urged A. Brian Albritton, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, to "initiate a criminal prosecution to put an end to the calculated illegal expansion'' of the card games.

As a sovereign nation, the Seminole Tribe isn't under state authority. But a federal prosecutor can pursue violations of law on an Indian reservation. Steve Cole, a spokesman for Albritton, said his boss was aware of the letter, "but at this time it's not appropriate to comment.''

McCollum has tried without success to persuade federal regulators to stop the disputed games. The National Indian Gaming Commission continues to study the Supreme Court decision, said spokesman Shawn Pensoneau on Thursday.

The commission's top attorney wrote a letter Oct. 23 asking the Seminoles to confirm that they did not plan to expand the card games while the agency reviews the gambling agreement in light of the Supreme Court decision.

The attorney, acting general counsel Penny J. Coleman, noted in a follow-up letter that the tribe subsequently started house-banked card games in Tampa and added table games in Hollywood.

"Given our ongoing review of this issue, we ask that as a sign of good faith, the Tribe refrain from opening any additional (banked card games) at any of the other tribal gaming operations,'' she wrote Seminole Chairman Mitchell Cypress on Nov. 18.

The tribe agreed not to expand the games beyond the current locations, said Barry Richard, an attorney for the Seminoles.

Seminole officials want to work with Crist and legislative leaders on a new deal, or compact, that could go before the Legislature this spring. The tribe continues to give Florida a share of gambling revenues guaranteed under the compact to total $100-million in the first year.

"I don't understand why the attorney general can't give us a few months to work this out,'' Richard said. "It would keep thousands of people from losing their jobs and keep money flowing into the state of Florida when we need it urgently.''

Separately, Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Broward County filed a motion Thursday asking the state Supreme Court to enforce its ruling in the case.

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

U.S. attorney in Tampa is asked to fold new Seminole card games 12/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 2:10pm]
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