No Casinos: We could talk Seminole Compact expansion if online gambling were dropped

sports betting
'If that's not a time bomb for addiction, nothing is.'

Calling the online sports-betting provisions in the new Seminole Compact the biggest proposed expansion of gambling ever in Florida, the leader of No Casinos said any discussions of what’s acceptable have to start with that being dropped.

“I’ve called a lot of things ‘the biggest proposed expansion of legalized gambling in the state of Florida’ over the years … but those things pale in comparison with the amount of gambling that would occur with this off-reservation stuff. So I think the beginning of the conversation would be, ‘let’s just quit it’ — with the server located on tribal lands and the gamblers in Pensacola — with the ‘gamblers are gambling on tribal land’ stuff,” John Sowinski, President of No Casinos, said in a Zoom news conference Thursday.

No Casinos, as always with Florida’s gambling expansion proposals, is positioning itself to provide the forefront of opposition to gambling expansion in Florida.

This time it’s to the new deal the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed late last month, ending years of standoff between the tribe and the state. The 30-year pact would provide for nontribal game rooms now operating at pari-mutuel tracks to continue without pari-mutuel operations. In exchange, the tribe could expand its operations to include online sports betting. Florida would get revenue sharing starting at about $500 million a year from the Seminoles.

DeSantis and legislative leaders have called a Special Session to consider legislation to allow the deal. The agreement also must be approved by federal authorities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

It also must be approved by Florida voters, Sowinski and other opponents charge. On Wednesday the group released results of a poll it conducted suggesting voters agree.

No Casinos already has pledged to sue to stop the deal, contending the pact would violate the Florida Constitution, under the Amendment 3 that Florida voters overwhelmingly passed in 2018, requiring that any gambling expansion be approved by voters.

Sowinski on Thursday laid out a number of ways he and No Casinos contend the pact would violate Amendment 3. Certainly, No Casinos is unhappy with provisions that would allow the nontribal game rooms to move slot machines out of the tracks to new locations such as Trump Doral or Fontainebleau or that the tribe would be able to add new games. But none of the group’s concerns rivaled the opening of online sports betting, which he said has the power to make gambling omnipresent in Florida.

“I think we would still have some concerns because of IGRA and how it relates to Amendment 3 for even authorization of new games on tribal land, craps, roulette, whatever the case may be. But we would not be at the defcon level that we are right now if this wasn’t a vast, statewide expansion of gambling that’s being proposed,” Sowinski added.

He warned that online sports betting has evolved far beyond picking Super Bowl winners, to the point where gamblers and bookies can communicate almost continuously, with bets on moment-by-moment things like whether the next football play would be a pass or a handoff.

“If that’s not a time bomb for addiction, nothing is,” he said.

But beyond that, he warned language in the compact allows the tribe to expand beyond online sports betting. The compact includes a provision that requires the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida, within 36 months of the compact’s approval, to negotiate to allow for more online games.

“This essentially requires the state and tribe to enter good faith negotiations that would turn every cell phone into a slot machine in Florida,” Sowinski said.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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