Wilton Simpson raises possibility of Special Session on gambling
Senate President Wilton Simpson.

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The Special Session would be to confirm a possible new gaming compact.

Senate President Wilton Simpson said Thursday he remains hopeful about a possible gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe, but acknowledged time is running out to finalize a deal before the scheduled April 30 end of the Legislative Session.

Speaking to reporters, the Trilby Republican raised the possibility that lawmakers could hold a special session to address a potential gambling deal, known as a compact.

“I believe we’re in a reasonable place that a compact could get finished sometime this year, maybe in the next week or two, maybe in a Special Session,” Simpson said. “I’m not pushing that off, I just think these things are very complex issues and it takes a while.”

This is the third consecutive year that Simpson, who took over as Senate President in November, has tried to seal a compact with the Seminoles. But a deal — which could open up sports betting in Florida and allow the tribe to begin offering craps and roulette — remains elusive as Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminoles exchange offers and counteroffers.

“The Governor and his teams have been working very hard the last few weeks in earnest to try to get this wrapped up,” Simpson said.

As behind-the-scenes negotiations continue, a pair of measures unrelated to tribal gambling are ready to go to the Senate floor.  One of the proposals (SB 7080) would allow nearly all horse tracks and jai alai frontons to do away with live races and matches, a process known as “decoupling.”

The other measure (SB 7076) would create a five-member statewide “Gaming Control Commission” appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.

Under changes adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, the decoupling measure would only go into effect if the legislation authorizing the gambling oversight board passes. Simpson, who released the bills last week, said Thursday that the commission would “bring a lot of integrity” to Florida’s gambling industry.

“So maybe we’ll get those done this Session, the things you’ve seen proposed,” he said. “And if not, clearly they would be taken up, if we do a Special Session, if we do a compact.”

House Speaker Chris Sprowls was less optimistic this week about the prospects for a compact.

“I think we’re pretty late at this point,” the Palm Harbor Republican told reporters Wednesday.

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