June 7, 2016 – Poltico Florida
by Daniel Ducassi
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has failed to produce depositions in response to a public records request from POLITICO Florida, even though lawyers for the Seminole Tribe of Florida already have used the documents against the agency in federal court.
The tribe and the state are currently locked in a lawsuit over gaming compact negotiations and banked card games.
The tribe is arguing that the state breached the tribe’s exclusivity over banked card games when gambling regulators allowed South Florida parimutuels to offer electronic blackjack games, therefore allowing the tribe, under the compact, to continue offering traditional blackjack at its own casinos past the expiration of the blackjack provision in the compact.
“Mardi Gras Casino advertised what it called ‘classic blackjack,’ which involved a live dealer and electronic cards,” a motion filed by lawyers for the tribe states.
The tribe asserts the games had the same odds as blackjack played with physical decks of cards.
Gambling regulators have said in depositions that the games are classified as slot machines based on how they determine winners.
The tribe moved for summary judgment on Friday, and the tribe’s blackjack argument relied, in part, on the depositions of Juan Martinez, the tribe’s vice president of gaming operations, and Richard LaBrocca — depositions that the department has not produced. The tribe also filed the depositions.
On May 12, lawyers for the state and the tribe deposed Richard LaBrocca, senior director of engineering for Gaming Laboratories International, the company that tests and certifies the blackjack machines in dispute.
LaBrocca described the live dealer version of the game, saying players would “sit at any number of stations at the slot machine, and a live attendant presses a button to begin the distribution of electronic cards.”
Lawyers for the tribe noted that LaBrocca said that, assuming the rules for the card version and the electronic version of the game are the same and one played with the same strategy, the games “would result in a similar mathematical return.” That is, a player would have the same odds of winning a traditional game of blackjack as they would an electronic game.
Martinez, who also had worked as a regional service manager for the previous company to make the games, gave a similar answer to LaBrocca, saying that if the machines used the same rules and number of decks as a traditional blackjack game, a card counter would have an “identical” advantage.
Despite the fact that the depositions had already been filed in court, and used in the tribe’s arguments, the department has yet to produce the depositions in response to public records requests from POLITICO Florida.
Martinez was deposed by a lawyer for DBPR on April 27, and POLITICO Florida first requested his deposition on May 9.
The department’s communications director, Chelsea Eagle, wrote back the next day, saying the department would provide Martinez’s deposition “as soon as we receive it.”
POLITICO Florida first asked Eagle for LaBrocca’s deposition on May 18, but never received any response from her. DBPR lawyers had deposed him six days earlier.
POLITICO Florida reiterated the requests for the depositions on June 2 in an email to both Eagle and Keels. The next day, lawyers for the tribe filed the depositions, along with their motion for summary judgment referencing the depositions, but DBPR still had not produced the depositions.
During a phone call around 12:30 on Monday, days after the depositions had been filed in federal court, DBPR spokesman Travis Keels said he would look into the status of the request for the depositions.
Keels did not respond to a follow-up email requesting a status update on the request. He also did not respond to an email asking when the department first received the depositions.
In another phone call with POLITICO Florida around 4 p.m. on Monday, Keels conceded that he had not yet looked into the request, but would do so. [READ MORE]