Seminoles gamble on Vegas-style slots two days before hearing

Hollywood – They didn’t get this far without a little gamble in them.

The Seminole Tribe, which defeated the state and federal governments in court three decades ago to usher in the Indian casino era, said Thursday it will immediately install Las Vegas-style machines at its Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. The games go public Monday, just two days before a crucial Supreme Court hearing on whether a deal approving the new games is even legal.

The timing is typical for the Seminoles, who have a proud tradition of bucking authority and fighting any attempts by state government to regulate their actions or interfere with their operations. As a sovereign nation they have been largely successful, and attorneys and tribal leaders said they are confident they will prevail again.

„The tribe has a right to proceed with the games, and in fact, they have an obligation to proceed because every day they don’t, the state loses money,“ Seminole attorney Barry Richard said. „The tribe has already given the state USD 50 million, and they are just doing what they’ve already agreed to do.“

In November, Gov. Charlie Crist reached a compact with the tribe that allows it to upgrade slot machines, install blackjack and baccarat tables, and host high-stakes poker games at its seven casinos. The tribe agreed to pay USD 50 million up front to the state, part of a guaranteed minimum of USD 375 million over the first three years.

The agreement also calls for the tribe to give the state a minimum of USD 100 million annually thereafter, and possibly much more, based on a percentage of total revenues outlined in the compact.

The state Legislature objected and filed a lawsuit challenging Crist’s authority to act without its approval. On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, which both sides say will play a key role in the future of gambling on Seminole reservations.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees Indian tribes, has already approved the compact as required by law. But agency lawyers and a federal judge in Washington, D.C., have said the approval can be overturned if the Florida high court rules it isn’t valid.

The first 1,000 machines go only to the Hollywood casino, replacing older, less lucrative machines based on bingo odds that have been the tribe’s hallmark for decades. The newer machines are identical to the popular machines found in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and, for the past year, at parimutuel tracks in Broward County.

Eventually, all of the tribe’s machines in all locations will be converted.

„January 28 will be a historic day for the Seminole Tribe,“ Seminole Chairman Mitchell Cypress said in a release. „This is good for our players, good for the Seminole Tribe and good for the State of Florida.“

The tribe’s decision had nothing to do with any pending legal action, Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said.

„This really is only done because the machines became available so quickly and nobody expected that,“ Bitner said.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who sued the tribe unsuccessfully last month to stop the compact’s approval, said the tribe acted disingenuously.

„Today’s news, while disappointing, is not surprising … even though the public was previously reassured the Seminole Tribe had no intention of so quickly taking the actions they announced today,“ McCollum said. „While we await a decision on the validity of the compact, I encourage the Florida Supreme Court to take into consideration the statements and actions by the parties involved.“