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Florida May Target Seminole Vendors

Unable to prevent the Seminole Indian tribe from offering table games because of a state compact approved by the federal government, Florida lawmakers suggested last week the state may target the tribe’s vendors for prosecution.

The Seminole tribe signed a Class III gaming compact more than a year ago with Governor Charlie Crist that allows Class III slot machines and banked card games including blackjack. The Class III slots became permissible under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act when it became legal for parimutuel operators to add the games. However, the table games, added by Crist as an incentive for larger payments to the state, were held to be illegal by the courts, since such games are not legal elsewhere in the state.

Because the federal Interior Department approved the compact, state officials do not have jurisdiction to invalidate it, or to enforce the state prohibition on tables on tribal land. However, state lawmakers said last month they may begin to crack down on vendors selling table game equipment to the tribe as “co-conspirators.” Because a state court has invalidated the compact, the lawmakers included the Class III slot vendors in the targeted group, saying there is no legal standing for Class III slots without a valid compact.

Several lawmakers have raised the prospect of prosecuting vendors with the state attorney general and with state attorneys in the jurisdictions where the Seminole tribe runs its six casinos.

Jon Glogau, a tribal gaming expert who works for state Attorney General Bill McCollum, told the Tampa Tribune that the invalidation of the compact meant the Seminoles can only operate Class II games. “All Class III gaming becomes illegal in the absence of a compact,” he said.

Whether or not vendors can be prosecuted for selling equipment to the tribe is another matter. State lawmakers have legal experts studying the issue, but there is no consensus yet on whether the state Justice Department has the legal standing to prosecute vendors for selling equipment to the casinos.

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