Seminoles Claim Exclusive Right to Banked Poker Games
Poker is at the center of a long-running feud between pari-mutuel wagering facilities and the Seminole Tribe in Florida. And a newly-proposed rule could favor the Seminoles by outlawing designated-player card games at tracks across the state.
What are Designated Player Games?
According to the Florida Administrative Register, designated player is defined as a player identified by the button is the player in the dealer position. It ensures that the button rotates around a poker table to provide all players an equal opportunity to serve in the dealer position, as happens in poker. They are also known as player-banked card games.
In itself, this is not controversial. Tracks and Seminole casinos alike provide live poker in this format.
The issue is games like Three-Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em that tend to be more similar to slot games than live poker in that there is a bigger house advantage and less of a skill factor. Three-Card Poker pits the player against the dealer for the ante and pay bets, and pair plus bets are optional and paid on a scale. Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a variation on the original game but with more nuances, such as early raises valued higher and antes remain in play after raises. Both games can be played on electronic machines or at a table game in a casino.
Several years ago, Florida authorized those games at all casino facilities, including racinos. However, the Seminoles claimed they paid for exclusive rights to designated-player games at their casinos by paying $250 million per year ($1 billion over five years) per the terms of their gaming compact.
In 2016, an administrative law judge ruled against a poker room at a Jacksonville racino, noting that designated-player games were being played illegally. “As currently operated,” the judge wrote, “the designated player is a player in name only. The existing operation of the games does no more than establish a bank against which participants play.”
The case was part of a massive complaint filed by state gambling regulators against more than two dozen card room operators at racinos.
Nearly a year later, after the legislature failed to agree on terms for a new gambling bill that would more specifically address designated-player games, the racinos acted on their own. Without a valid, new compact with the Seminoles in play, many racino operators took it upon themselves to start dealing again.
Seminole Casinos versus Racinos
In April, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering introduced a proposal to eliminate all designated-player card games at pari-mutuel facilities. In essence, designated players would be required to compete and compare cards against each other to determine the winner of each game. This would satisfy the terms of the now-renewed Seminole compact and settle the issue.
Meanwhile, according to the current Seminole compact, the tribe will continue making payments for its designated-player exclusivity agreement. In addition, the tribe will rely on “aggressive enforcement action against continued operation of banked card games” at the racinos.
However, opponents of the proposal claim hundreds of jobs could be lost, not to mention costing the industry $50 million per year.
The crux of the issue seems pit the racinos against the Seminoles for gambling rights. And legislators have tended to side with the Seminoles in most cases, which some critics attribute to the flow of money that the Seminoles provide for the state.
Should the voters be able to decide on a constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot, the people of Florida will then have their say over gambling issues that have long plagued the legislature and led to contentious and complicated decisions.