As Seminoles build hotels, they protect their turf elsewhereBy Nick Sortal, CDC Gaming ReportsJanuary 13, 2018 at 12:37 amYes, the Seminole Tribe of Florida now has the necessary business environment to accelerate construction in Florida, thanks to an agreement this summer with Governor Rick Scott. But the tribe is still aggressively protecting itself against competitive dings by more than brick-and-mortar actions.Considering that the Seminoles take in about $2.4 billion per year via their seven casinos across the state, you could term each of the issues I’ve listed below as “minor.” But here in the Sunshine State, no one can really predict whether one of these seemingly insignificant enterprises will boom into the next big thing. So it’s not surprising that these gambling developments, which have little to do directly with the Seminoles, face opposition from the tribe.Internet cafes: Last month the Orlando Sentinel reported, in an article titled “Florida law enforcement fights new crop of ‘illegal’ gambling operations,” that Internet café gambling operations are again proliferating. Reporter Jason Ruiter noted the turning point: Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis, convicted in 2013 in a $300 million operation, had racketeering charges dropped earlier this spring by state prosecutors. “Once that court case came out, you started to see them become more emboldened by this and they just said, ‘Hey, let’s go,’ ” said Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, whose deputies this summer raided the Hot Spot Internet café in Ormond Beach and seized $10,000 in cash. Such businesses, citing the Mathis case, say their operations are legal.The situation has prompted calls for legislators to pass harsher state laws against the businesses or take steps to regulate them, the Orlando Sentinel reported. “I want the Legislature to figure this out for us — either it’s gambling, in which case you’re going to put tougher penalties and make it worth our while — or you’re going to tax it, regulate it,” Chitwood said. “Everybody is kind of stuck with ‘Which way do we go here?’”That’s a statement that Seminole officials strongly agree with. “Local law enforcement is confused and conflicted,” Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said.Internet cafes (but not really): The tribe hired an investigator to find, then go undercover and patronize “electronic gambling parlors” (EGPs) in the Jacksonville area. It then filed suit against 25 operators, saying they are violating the tribe’s exclusivity.Seminoles’ attorney Barry Richard told Florida Politics’ Jim Rosica that the named defendants weren’t traditional “Internet cafés,” also known as “strip-mall casinos,” which were banned by the state in 2013 after a multi-state investigation netted dozens of arrests. Richard said the EGPs are “all over the state,” but most are concentrated in the Jacksonville area.“Most of these places don’t even offer internet access,” he told Rosica. “The games they offer are resident on an in-house server. We’re talking (electronic) blackjack, all other kinds of games.”Daily fantasy sports: In late 2017, the Seminoles objected to a bill filed by a legislator that could pave the way for daily fantasy sports to become legal in Florida. The Seminoles, naturally, argue that DFS could cut into their revenues. Look for the Seminoles to also speak up should the legislature discuss adding online gambling, iGaming, or sports gambling. The tribe gained legal momentum by prevailing in courts cases involving designated player games. In one case, the tribe gained leverage when a judge ruled that the state violated its compact with the tribe by allowing designated player games, such as Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em and Three-Card Poker, at racetrack card rooms. (Those card room owners argued that those games constituted poker.) That ruling meant that the Seminoles, should they wish, could continue to offer their existing games and not pay a dime to the state, because of the compact violation.The second case was initiated by the state, which filed suit because the tribe had continued to offer its table games even though that portion of an agreement with the state had expired in 2015. A third lawsuit, filed by the tribe, complained that the state had not negotiated in good faith with regard to renewing the contract between the tribe and the state.All that wrangling got worked out, though, when Scott the tribe reached an agreement that guarantees the tribe can conduct blackjack and other table games at its casinos in the state through 2030.Overall, the tribe isn’t merely playing defense when it comes to potential future competition. The state’s Division of Elections website notes that more than 670,000 signatures have been gathered to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to make it more difficult to expand gambling (and to protect the Seminoles’ slot monopoly outside of South Florida). The tribe has contributed $1 million to the political committee Voters In Charge, which is within about 100,000 signatures of getting the measure on the November 2018 ballot.So, the larger picture: those who are against any expansion of gambling have long argued that a compact with the Seminoles acts as a firewall against hotel-resort casinos coming to Florida. The tribe itself is doing an excellent job of proactively keeping that firewall in place.