The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) has started to issue warning letters to card rooms at Florida parimutuels, telling them that the card games currently being played are too much like house banked games found in casinos such as those operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The letter is an advisory reiterating the final order of Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk in DOAH Case No. 16-1009 filed October 26, 2016, and would indicate the ruling will be enforced.
In closing, the letter repeats ALJ Wyk’s order that the games, “cannot be allowed to continue to operate in the current manner,” and must be, “played in a nonbanking manner.” The letter was dated Oct 28 and signed by Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Director Anthony Glover.
Table banked poker games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha are not affected by the ruling.
BestBet Jacksonville seems to be the poker room administrators had in their sights and the property was levied a fine of $4,500, according to floridapolitics.com late last week. In January the state filed complaints against BestBet and six other parimutuels which include horse and dog tracks that offer “designated player” card games.
“Designated-player” card games in Florida seem to have become “unauthorized” in the state with some rulemaking changes that occurred this summer. Much like the “California card games” found in that state, venues in Florida had sought a way to let a “designated player” deal the cards and handle the bank rather than pass the deal, and the bank, after each hand.
The ruling will likely be appealed as each of the pari-mutuel dog and horse tracks in the state that utilize the games reportedly make an additional $10 million or more each year from the games. The ruling affects all seven operators and the recent letter would seem to indicate the state is ready to enforce the judges decision.
Presumably, the 1st District Court of Appeals would need to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the reported enforcement actions. Although not as profitable, the venues may be able to simply pass the deck between players after each concluded hand to keep card playing patrons coming to gamble in the interim until the matter is finally decided.
The mess began in late May when regulators filed a complaint with the judge against bestbet (Jacksonville Kennel Club) and five other operators. Counsel for the Kennel Club at the time complained that the games came under scrutiny at the same time Governor Rick Scott clinched a deal with the Seminole tribe for an exclusive right to operate banked card games in the state as part of a far-ranging gaming compact worth over $3 billion. That deal was never ratified by the legislature.
Lawyers were able to present their case before Administrative Law Judge Gary Early on July 19. stating that new rules, rather than new interpretations should be made if changes were going to take place. In that case, the judge agreed with the gaming providers that regulators had repealed a rule but not replaced it. It’s unclear if last week’s ruling also affects that case, making it all the more likely an appeal will be filed. On August 1 ALJ Wyk ruled against the games.
The Seminole tribe has continued to offer blackjack at their casinos without a compact, saying that allowing the designated player games goes against their exclusivity agreement, even though the compact was never passed into law. Another federal judge will make a decision on that case sometime in the future. The Seminoles have continued to tender a portion of their profits to the state in a good-faith effort even without a gaming compact.
California gambling regulators have dealt with an issue similar to what is occurring at the Florida parimutuels and no final decree nor enforcement actions have occurred there. In “Cali Card Rooms” players will find a variety of blackjack, pai gow and baccarat games with embellished names and slightly different rules than players face in casinos like those in Las Vegas. In some California venues card room employees act as the designated player.
Judge Van Wyk said in August that designated players in Jacksonville are, “required to bring a minimum of $30,000 to each table, and [take] no active role in the game,” the judge said. “…mysteriously, the same number of designated players walk through the door each morning as the designated-player tables [at] Jacksonville open.”
She continued in her 54-page order, “The basic [tenet] of the cardroom statute is that authorized games are not (illegal) casino gaming because the participants ‘play against each other. As currently operated, 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 final order by DBPR can be read in (.pdf format). The ruling can be appealed within 30 days of the order’s filing.