House leader wants Feds to shut down blackjack, card games at Seminole casinos

Larry Cretul

Larry Cretul

Seminole Casino Immokalee

506 South First Street, Immokalee, FL

— House Speaker Larry Cretul on Wednesday asked the federal agency regulating Indian gambling to force the Seminole Tribe to shut down blackjack and other card games at its Immokalee casino until the state hammers out a compact with the tribe.

In a letter to the National Indian Gaming Commission, Cretul, R-Ocala, said despite the lack of a gambling compact, the tribe continues to offer banked card games at its Collier County and Tampa casinos even though the games are illegal under state law.

The federal agency that it has the right to levy fines up to $25,000 per infraction for violating federal gaming laws and can also shut down the casinos in violation. Cretul said after unsuccessful attempts by state officials, its time for the federal regulatory to exercise that power.

“You also have the authority on behalf of the NIGC to issue orders of temporary closure of gaming activities for substantial violations of the provisions of IGRA, of regulations prescribed by the Commission pursuant to IGRA, or of tribal regulations, ordinances, or resolutions,” Cretul wrote in a letter to acting chairman George Skibine. “It is our hope that the NIGC exercises this authority to bring the Tribe into compliance with federal law.”

Gov. Charlie Crist struck the original compact, which allowed blackjack, banked card games and Las Vegas-style slots, with the Seminole Tribe in 2007. Cretul stated in his letter that the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the governor didn’t have the power to ink such a deal.

The Seminole Tribe released a statement saying “contrary to the letter from Speaker Cretul, the Florida Supreme Court did not invalidate the 2007 Compact, which received federal approval in January 2008. ...The Tribe’s gaming facilities continue to operate in full compliance with the 2007 Compact.”

Cretul sought federal intervention as the Legislature wrangles with tribe over a compact that many House members say goes farther than they find acceptable.

Izzy Havenick, Vice President of Southwest Family Enterprises which owns the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs, said he trusts the legislature to study the proposal thoroughly, realize it has loopholes and not rush into a deal because the state needs money.

Yet Havenick, who said the track will be a loser if the compact is agreed upon, doesn’t think Cretul’s letter will shutdown the Seminole casino games.

“I feel like the tribe is going to do what the tribe has been doing,” Havenick said. “They’ve been interpreting the law one way while others interpret it the other way.

I think in a way they’re thumbing their nose at the legislature.”

Unable to reach agreement with the tribe over plans to expand gambling at its seven tribal casinos, Cretul sent a letter to the NIGC asking for the federal agency to use its authority to help craft a deal acceptable to both parties.

“Although significant progress has been made in moving toward a compact that would be mutually agreeable to both the Tribe and the State; we are still far apart in respect to what the Tribe is demanding and what we are willing to permit under a gaming compact and under the state’s other gaming laws,” Cretul wrote.

Havenick said he would like to see more representation from his industry during these negotiations.

“Everyone’s talking about saving the pari-mutuel industry in the process, even the governor, so why isn’t anyone calling the industry and asking us to have a seat at the table?” Havenick said.

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