Judge says he can’t stop Seminoles‘ blackjack

A federal judge said he’s powerless to block the Seminole Tribe from offering blackjack at its casinos, rejecting a Pompano racetrack’s lawsuit while emphasizing the legal hurdles facing anyone tangling with the tribe.

Lawyers for The Isle Casino & Racing at Pompano Park and its parent company, PPI Inc., attempted to sidestep the tribe’s sovereign nation status by suing only Gov. Charlie Crist and the federal government over a gambling compact approved in January and invalidated last week by the Florida Supreme Court.

But U.S. District Judge Stephan P. Mickle ruled the Seminoles must be included in the suit because any action taken would directly affect the tribe and its 3,200 members. And there’s the rub, the judge indicated, because the tribe can’t be sued for any reason in any court in the country.

„Although there is no alternative forum for PPI to litigate its claim, in equity and good conscience this case cannot proceed without the Seminole Tribe,“ Mickle wrote in the ruling released in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

Jill Haynes, spokeswoman for the Isle of Capri Casinos and PPI, said track executives are weighing their options.

„We are evaluating the judge’s ruling and will decide what steps to take,“ Haynes said.

The ruling comes less than a week after the state Supreme Court invalidated the gambling compact between Crist and the tribe that allowed the Seminoles to offer blackjack, baccarat and Las Vegas-style slot machines at their seven casinos. The Supreme Court said that because those games are illegal everywhere else in the state, only the Legislature could approve such a deal and make the necessary changes in Florida law.

Despite the ruling, the Seminoles continue to operate as normal. Tribe attorney Barry Richard said unless the federal government, which approved the compact, reverses its decision, the tribe won’t stop.

The compact became official in January, 45 days after Crist signed it when the U.S. secretary of the interior refused to block the deal.

In its motion to block Crist and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne from carrying out the compact, PPI said blackjack and baccarat are illegal in Florida, and therefore the tribe is conducting an illegal gambling operation.

Mickle’s decision rejected that argument and outlined the federal protections granted to Indian tribes against interference from the courts.

„The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act provides clear and convincing evidence that Congress intended to preclude judicial review,“ Mickle wrote.

The federal government does have the right to prosecute and fine Seminole leaders if they operate illegal gambling on their reservations, according to Mickle, but a judge can’t make that finding or issue an injunction independently.

The question of how the Supreme Court’s ruling against the compact would be enforced was at the center of a meeting of executives from Broward County’s three racetrack casinos Wednesday.

The racetrack casinos — Gulfstream Park Casino and Racing and The Mardi Gras Racetrack & Gaming Center, both in Hallandale Beach, and the Isle Casino at Pompano Park — say they are frustrated that the Seminoles are allowed to operate blackjack and baccarat while they are prohibited from offering the games.

„We know that the Seminole Tribe is probably going to ignore the court order, so we’re wondering just who is going to enforce Florida law,“ said Dan Adkins, chief gaming executive at Mardi Gras. „Is it going to be the U.S. Attorney, will sheriff’s deputies go in and shut them down?

„That’s not going to happen,“ he added, „but where’s the respect for the Supreme Court and the laws of Florida?“