Ambushed by Seminole Blackjack

Gamblers are lined up three-deep just to get a seat at one of the new blackjack tables at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, where they can have a stiff drink, rub elbows with a stranger wearing an Ed Hardy T-shirt, and bet away their life savings $25 at a time (at least $25 at a time, because that's the minimum bet at the cheapest tables — most tables have $50 to $100 minimums). But you know that story.

Tailpipe, though, is an around-the-edges sort of dude. You won't find truth at the main banquet table, the 'Pipe has discovered, but in the dark alley outside the kitchen.

The truth of Las Vegas-style gambling in Broward County is this:

In November, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida allowing the Seminoles to operate games like blackjack and baccarat, which are not legal anywhere else in the state. In exchange for permission to run those games at all seven Florida Seminole casinos, the tribe agreed to pay the state about $100 million per year. They paid $50 million upfront to seal the deal.

Where did that leave the other Broward gambling establishments — the so-called racinos, which already fork over more than half their profits to the state? Basically, up the creek (or, to continue Tailpipe's metaphor, in the back alley).

Check 'em out yourself.

With the blackjack party going full-blast at Hard Rock in Hollywood, the Gulfstream and Mardi Gras casinos, both in Hallandale Beach, display depressing rows of empty slots, vacant poker tables, and collections of attractive cocktail waitresses standing around gossiping about the fate of non-Seminole casinos. At Isle of Capri in Pompano Beach, some of the regulars have defected south to reservation land.

One card room even reportedly fired a dealer after he called in sick, then was spotted at — you guessed it — the Hard Rock, playing what the kids like to call "BJ."

The worst situation is probably at Dania Jai-Alai. The entire fronton has been dead since the start of 21 kicked off amid much hoopla on June 22. Last week, a low-stakes poker tournament in Dania Beach that ordinarily draws more than 100 brave souls could bring in only four players. The tournament was canceled.

When the 'Pipe made a quick trip last Wednesday to what is now becoming a cavernous memorial to frontons from years gone by, he saw for himself exactly how desperate the situation has become at Jai-Alai.

The place is usually packed, with 15 tables full of poker players stretching their necks to keep an eye on the jai alai and simulcast tracks. On this night, the casino was even offering $1 beers and hot dogs. But there were almost no takers, only a handful of bettors downstairs watching the simulcast horse and dog races, a few loyal fans sprinkled across the huge jai-alai grandstand, and two poker tables going upstairs. In the absence of younger players — presumably spending hours trying to play a few hands of 21 down the road at Hard Rock — the old regulars decided to start playing "double flop," a poker game most dealers in South Florida have never even heard of. A few young men joined in, mostly out of curiosity.

At another table, there are no cards, no chips clacking, no players at all. Six dealers sit around in pressed white shirts, their dealer badges prominent, discussing how slow the room has been since the Seminoles started blackjack. Dania just remodeled all the poker tables in the room, replacing the traditional green felt with a slick, shiny, light-green nylon. Most of the dealers like the smoother surface, where the cards rarely flip up like they do on felt, but they aren't used to it yet because they don't have many people to deal to.

The old auto cylinder had seen enough to know he'd seen too much. There's nothing sadder than a few desperate gamblers with nobody to play against.

Ah, but things were looking up late last week, when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the governor did not have the authority to sign such a compact with the Seminoles. Joy bloomed at the racinos — or at least in their front offices.

"The fly in the ointment here is the governor agreeing to allow games that are not legal in this state," says Dan Adkins, general manager of Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center in Hallandale Beach. "That's what screwed it all up."

Aside from the flat fees agreed to in the compact, the tribe does not pay taxes on the money coming in to the casino. Pari-mutuels like Mardi Gras pay 50 percent in taxes, though Adkins says it's more like 62 percent. He says that on top of 50 percent going to the state, 3.2 percent goes to the city and county. They pay another $3 million for an annual licensing fee and millions more in contributions to help gambling addicts and the greyhound industry.

"It's kind of hard when you have two stands and they're both selling apples, and one of the stands pays 62 percent in taxes and the other can sell apples how they want, where they want, whenever they want, and they don't have to pay taxes on any of it. What side of the street will people be buying apples on?"

Adkins, for one, expects the Hard Rock blackjack tables to be shut down — as ignominiously, he hopes, as a Prohibition-era saloon succumbing to an ax-wielding Carrie Nation.

I See Sea Turtles at the Seashore

One of the oddest sights in South Florida is a clumsy Jurassic hulk dragging itself out of the surf along urban beaches, then ponderously dropping shelled progeny into a sandy hole.

The 'Pipe stumbled onto one of these saurian anachronisms recently, a loggerhead turtle looking for a place to deposit her eggs in the beer-soaked early-morning hours on the beach near Treasure Trove, south of Las Olas Boulevard. It wasn't easy, among stacked beach chairs and pot-smoking tourists.

But there she was, a 200-pound turtle flinging sand in lazy arcs as she covered her clutch.

As 'Pipe and a few friends watched excitedly, a canoodling couple a few feet away took provocative cell phone snapshots — of each other. The canoodlers, who found their own images far more compelling than that of a threatened species, apparently hadn't noticed the turtle. As T-mom covered her nest with a scattershot sand barrage, she accidentally pelted the couple, who squealed and fled.

Then the turtle dragged her weary body back into the surf.

Tailpipe wondered what, if anything, he should do to protect the little would-be turtle babes on a beach where a tractor does a daily smooth-up in the sand? Filled with a sense of civic responsibility, he called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission help number, displayed on another sea turtle nest cordoned off with yellow plastic tape.

A couple of rings. Then the message: The number isn't in service.

On Monday morning, the 'Pipe got FWCC environmental specialist Jean Higgins on the phone.

So what's wrong with this picture? Tailpipe asked. A few things, Higgins said. The stacks of beach chairs no more than ten feet away from the loggerhead nests? Those can block nesting sites, though there's no ordinance in Fort Lauderdale. It's something wildlife officials are working on, Higgins added.

Bright street lighting that could potentially lead disoriented hatchlings into oncoming traffic? Yeah, some neighborhoods in Broward County are behind the curve on lighting restrictions, Higgins said. It's been "a struggle."

Finally, what about the dude who sidled up within six or seven feet of the nesting loggerhead, bathing its shell in the blue light of his camera phone flash? A big no-no, Higgins said.

"No fast motion, and no flash photography."

And, oh yeah. The weekend helpline staff has to get its act together. It's important.

"Loggerheads are threatened," Higgins said. "Their numbers aren't looking so good."

Anthony J. Mauro, Please Stand Up

Politics can be a nasty game, full of drama, sabotage, and subterfuge. So members of the Green Party weren't completely surprised to see that, just before the filing deadline for the general election on November 4, five "mystery candidates" had filed to run as Greens for the Florida Legislature — without ever being involved with their local chapters or notifying the state party about their intent to run.

Could they be right-wing conservatives or corporate shills in sheep's clothing? Could they be running as Greens just to confuse voters or put an ugly face on the party? Or were they trying to drain votes away from other candidates? It's happened before, party spokesperson Alan Kobrin says. "Republicans have run campaigns — you'll hear them even advertising it on talk shows — urging members to switch over and vote in Democratic primaries."

In fact, Cynthia McKinney, a former Democratic congresswoman from Georgia, was ousted from office with just this sort of maneuver. McKinney is running for U.S. president this year as a Green.

Kobrin urges caution until the party finds out for sure whether the mystery Greens are saboteurs or legitimate candidates. "One of the goals of the Greens is to get people to switch over from the current two-party do-nothing system and develop a party that will get rid of all the lies and hoopla and other crap passing as a democracy," he says. "Maybe these are just individuals who have seen the wisdom of switching over. I would love for everybody to suddenly become Green. It could be a tremendous success story."

Some of his fellow party members, however, are more wary. The Palm Beach County chapter's treasurer, Bonnie Redding, says that active Greens stopped by the house of one mystery candidate — Sarah Roman of Port St. Richey, who's running for state representative. Her family would not give out her phone number, and the candidate never called as requested. Aniana H. Robas, a candidate for state Senate from Riverview, hasn't returned multiple phone calls. And Lantana resident and state Senate candidate Anthony Joseph Mauro has been nearly impossible to track down.

"I've worked in the peace movement, the immigration movement, the environmental movement," chapter co-chair Sarah "Echo" Steiner says. "If he had been on the scene at all, we would have known who he was." Party leaders wonder if it could be the same Anthony J. Mauro who once served as mayor pro-tem of Manalapan — someone they have had trouble contacting via phone.

If the mystery five are frauds, Redding says, they can be prosecuted for signing notarized statements alleging they are bona fide, dues-paying party members. But if they turn out to be legitimate — well, then, there's an organized statewide party with some 7,000 registered members who would be happy to help whisk them into office. Anthony J. Mauro should give them a call.

Postscript: On Monday, Redding stopped by the gated condo in Lantana that Mauro listed as his home address. No Mauro in the directory. A different name listed on the apartment. No response to Redding's calls.

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