New compact with Seminole Tribe, deal on sports betting in Florida ‘imminent’

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Florida would receive an estimated $500M a year for a deal to give the tribe statewide authority to offer sports betting.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida are expected to announce details of a new gaming compact imminently, according to several news sources and confirmed by Florida Politics.

Anchoring the deal is an agreement to give the Seminoles exclusive control of sports betting, which the Tribe would be able to offer at its own facilities as well as through pari-mutuels and its platform known as Hard Rock Digital.

The Governor’s representatives and tribal leaders are polishing final details on the deal, which could be signed as early as Friday, sources close to the talks said. The sources spoke on the condition that their names not be used.

The deal is expected to land the state at least $500 million a year in revenues from the Tribe, well over the $350 million or so a year that the Seminole Tribe had been paying the state under the old deal, which has fallen into disarray over disagreements on what games could be offered at state pari-mutuel facilities.

The Seminole Tribe’s last payment under that deal hit state coffers in mid-2018.

However, the new deal would put the pari-mutuel disagreements to bed by explicitly allowing those facilities to continue offering their current slate of designated player games without running afoul of the gaming compact. Also, the Tribe would be granted exclusive rights to offer craps and roulette at their own properties.

The agreement now being finalized would resolve “a situation that’s been tense for years” by providing clarity and moving forward in a “way that protects Florida businesses but also gives the tribe some comfort” about the designated player games, one of the Governor’s aides said Thursday.

The potential compact “recognizes that designated player games do not breach the tribe’s exclusivity, but it constrains” the card games “to their current footprint” and does not accommodate any significant expansion of the games, he said.

The Tribe would oversee all sports betting in the state, including at pari-mutuel facilities, which would share revenues with the Tribe, reportedly with the better end of a 60%-40% split in revenues. The tribe would pay to the state 10% of pari-mutuel operators’ net winnings and 13.75% of the tribe’s own sports-betting net revenues.

The pending agreement also would incentivize the tribe to contract with pari-mutuels to market the games. The Seminoles’ sports-betting payments to the state would be increased by 2% if they do not contract with three pari-mutuel operators within three months after sports betting goes live. The compact would require the tribe to contract with an unlimited number of “willing and qualified” pari-mutuels, according to a source outside of the Governor’s office who is familiar with the negotiations.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is committed to a mutually-beneficial gaming compact with the State of Florida and looks forward to its approval by the Florida Legislature, the Seminole Tribal Council and the U.S. Department of the Interior,” Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said in a statement provided to Florida Politics.  “The Tribe wants to express our sincere thanks to Governor DeSantis, Senate President (Wilton) Simpson, House Speaker (Chris) Sprowls and many others who have worked hard to negotiate a historic agreement that cements our partnership with the state for decades to come.”

In addition to pari-mutuels, the Seminoles would be able to enter into a deal with one other online gaming platform, such as FanDuel, DraftKings, or Barstool.

By putting the Tribe in control of the new sports betting market, the Governor and legislative leaders believe the state could allow for sports betting without violating a constitution amendment that appeared on the 2018 ballot as Amendment 3 and requires voter approval for any future gaming expansion.

However, the authorization could face legal challenges under the amendment.

As a sovereign tribal nation, the Seminole’s gaming operations are governed under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), allowing them to circumvent the amendment.

The amendment allows the Legislature to negotiate gaming compacts pursuant to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act “for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands.”

Having sports-betting servers on tribal property while people use mobile apps throughout the state would violate the amendment, said John Sowinski, who was the campaign manager of the political committee behind Amendment 3.

“I don’t think it even passes the sniff test. The file server being on tribal land does not make the gambling on tribal land. If you accept that premise, then the tribe could operate casinos all over the state as long as the random-number generators in the slot machines were on tribal lands,” he said.

Tallahassee attorney George Levesque, who served as the Florida House’s general counsel during negotiations with the tribe over the 2010 compact, called the sports-betting approach “a creative solution to address the Amendment 3 conundrum.”

“Now, whether that’s constitutional or not, I wouldn’t hazard to guess,” he said. “I would say that everything is constitutional until the court says it’s not.”

Under the proposed deal, the Tribe would not object to real estate mogul Jeffrey Soffer transferring his casino permit to the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. On its own, an agreement with the Tribe would not allow Soffer to forge ahead with the transfer — it would require legislative approval.

But, since the old permit would be transferred, rather than a new one being issued, the move would also avoid any entanglements with the constitutional amendment.

The potential compact also addresses whether pari-mutuel operators can relocate, an issue known as “portability.” The agreement would allow pari-mutuel permits to be transferred but would require the tribe’s permission if a permit is transferred within 100 miles of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, one of the nation’s most lucrative gambling operations. The Seminoles also would need to sign off on permits transferred to Broward or Miami-Dade counties within 15 miles of their Hollywood casino.

The biggest remaining question is when the Legislature will OK the potential new compact or transfer legislation. It is possible that legislation could drop next week and get fast-tracked through the House and Senate, but it would be a tight timeline.

It is also possible that the Legislature could call a Special Session as early as next month to ratify the deal.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, a chief proponent of the deal, has already indicated he would be amenable to a Special Session.

“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 on April 16. “I’m not pushing that off; I just think these things are very complex issues, and it takes a while.

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

However, House Speaker Chris Sprowls does not have the same urgency, telling reporters it was “pretty late” in the Session for lawmakers to take up a gaming deal. The Legislative Session is scheduled to end on April 30.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.



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