1. Florida Politics

State of Florida, Seminole Tribe head to mediation over compact talks

TALLAHASSEE — The state and the Seminole Tribe are headed into mediation — shepherded by a lawyer whose past clients include Mick Jagger and Leona Helmsley — to resolve a possible standoff over the future of blackjack and other banked card games at most of the tribe's Florida casinos.

The tribe formally requested mediation last month after negotiations over the card games — part of a $1 billion, five-year deal — stalled this spring.

While those talks appear to be back on track, the state has agreed to the Seminoles' request, and both sides have settled on a mediator, according to documents provided by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees gambling in the state.

"We have not formally responded to the merits of the request for mediation; however, we have been in contact with them regarding the selection of a mediator and working toward mediation dates and location," department spokeswoman Chelsea Eagle said in an email Tuesday.

The Seminoles and officials with Gov. Rick Scott's administration have "mutually agreed" on New York lawyer Loretta Gastwirth, Department of Business and Professional Regulation chief attorney Jason Maine wrote in an Aug. 13 email to Marvin Harris, the American Arbitration Association's manager for alternative dispute resolution.

The lawyer both sides initially agreed to, Thomas Brewer, "declined to serve" due to scheduling conflicts, according to an email sent earlier the same day from Harris to Maine.

Gastwirth is a partner with the Long Island-based Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein and Breitstone law firm. According to her bio on the firm's website, the one-time entertainment industry lawyer's previous clients include Mick Jagger, Luther Vandross and Leona Helmsley. Gastwirth has served as an arbitrator on the Commercial Arbitration Panel of the American Arbitration Association for a decade, according to the website.

Since 2010, the Seminoles have had exclusive rights to offer banked card games, including blackjack, at five of the tribe's seven casinos. In exchange, the tribe promised to pay the state a minimum of $1 billion over five years, an amount which it has exceeded. But the agreement regarding the cards, part of a 20-year deal called a "compact," expired on July 31. Under the terms of the compact, however, the Seminoles have 90 days after the agreement expires to continue operating the banked card games.

Both sides hope to finalize a new pact before that time period runs out, but the Seminoles insist they won't have to stop the games even in the absence of an agreement with the state.

Meanwhile, negotiations between top legislators, Gov. Rick Scott's general counsel and the Seminoles appear to be moving forward. Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said last week that he, his House counterpart and Scott's top lawyer, Timothy Cerio, met with representatives of the tribe as late as last week.

The Legislature has to authorize any agreement between the governor and the tribe, although Scott can sign a compact before the 90-day deadline runs out and lawmakers could ratify it later, according to Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Galvano, then a House member, was the lead negotiator for the Legislature in 2010 and helped craft the current compact.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees gambling on tribal lands, has to give final approval to any agreement reached between the state and the Seminoles.