Broward News

Deposition of Seminoles' CEO Provides Insights Into Gambling

A 144-page deposition given by Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen April 27 in West Palm Beach has some interesting revelations.

The deposition was taken because the Seminole Tribe is suing the state, claiming that competing racetrack casinos violate the Seminoles' right to exclusively offer certain card games. Currently, the Seminoles pay the state $1 billion in exchange for the right to be the sole provider of banked card games in the state and of slots outside of South Florida. But the deal was violated, the Seminoles allege, when some racinos offered a specific digital version of blackjack and also when the state allowed banked card games in poker rooms disguised as designated-player games.  

One page of Allen's deposition is redacted. Politico obtained an unredacted version from the state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering recently. The Seminoles filed suit to block publications from that page, arguing it contains trade secrets.  Politico went ahead on Friday and published an article leading with the redacted material – namely, that the tribe makes $2.2 billion per year via gambling, a number the state has already used for computing future taxes – and the Seminoles then dropped the suit.

Here are my takeaways from the deposition:

Allen worked his way up. Lawyer Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe asks Allen several questions about how Allen started in the business. We find out Allen’s first job was at age 13 as a dishwasher after his father passed away, and he also washed the boss’ car for $20, applying mink oil inside. In the restaurant, he innovated an efficient way to balance profits and food costs, was placed in a manager trainee program around 1979 via Bally’s Park Place in Atlantic City, and took off from there, having never graduated from college. We also learn he worked for Donald Trump in the early stages of Atlantic City growth and for Sol Kerzner as he put together Atlantis, Paradise Island. He’s also very proud that the Seminoles were the first to work with major slot manufacturers to obtain Class II versions of popular Class III titles – i.e., to offer a game that was still legally bingo yet was entertaining to patrons – which catapulted the Seminoles’ business.

Allen claims that a form of electronic game called DigiDeal violated the Seminoles' compact with the state. The racetrack casinos in 2009 had already begun electronic blackjack, with images of busty dealers cooing to patrons. In 2011 Mardi Gras Casino billboards promised "live blackjack,” a game in which live “dealers” took orders from players to hit, stand, or double down. The dealer then pushed a button and the electronic cards were dealt. 

Excuse me while I go on a rant here. DigiDeal was a TERRIBLE game. Either play live blackjack with a dealer or play electronically. (Do you tip a guy who pushes a button?) The game lasted maybe four months at Mardi Gras, near the Seminoles’ Hollywood palace. You’ve never seen the game come back here, and you never, ever will.  DigiDeal, based in Spokane, Washington, last posted on Facebook and Twitter in 2014. Their number is still working, but to try to hang a lawsuit on a game that can only be described as PUTRID is one of the rare times I shake my head at Mr. Allen.

The other half of their lawsuit, though, is a good case. The Seminoles argue that the state incorrectly allowed poker room versions of three-card poker, Ultimate Texas Hold 'em, Casino War, and Pai Gow, which are conducted in blackjack pits at most other casinos.

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Nick Sortal is South Florida’s expert journalist when it comes to the gambling scene. He covered the openings, expansions, poker tournaments, entertainment, and human-interest facets of the industry for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel from 2007 until taking a buyout in November 2015, capping a 30-year career that included state and national awards and features about naked yoga. He now writes a weekly column for the Miami Herald and also reports about gambling on his site, The Southern Illinois native worked for papers in St. Louis and Indianapolis before joining the Sun Sentinel in 1985. He likes triathlons, country music, basketball, and bragging about his family.
Contact: Nick Sortal