Democratic Rep. Nick Duran is voicing concerns shared by some of his Democratic colleagues about the new gaming deal to be ironed out in next week’s Special Session.
The Miami Democrat drafted a letter to House Speaker Chris Sprowls raising some of those issues, asking whether the state is passing up revenues and whether the deal will survive legal challenges.
“From the first start, you say, ‘Wow, this is some good money that’s involved here,’” Duran said of the arrangement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. “Let’s see if we could have some success. And I think everyone, to a certain extent, has a level of optimism to see something pass.”
However, he added some skepticism in a talk with Florida Politics about his letter to the Speaker. “Once you dive into the details, I think it does present a lot of questions.”
Some questions specifically posed in the letter ask Republican leaders to compare Florida’s revenue share to other states that have legalized sports betting and to also look at whether tribes are involved in those deals and what exclusivity rights are given elsewhere.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has estimated the 75-page agreement would help raise $2.5 billion in new revenue over the next five years and $6 billion through 2030. The arrangement would run for the next 30 years.
But Duran said he wants to know whether the state could recoup more money in its agreement with the Seminole Tribe. He also echoed concerns put forward by some legal experts that the agreement could run afoul of state or federal law.
The U.S. Department of Interior must agree to the deal, and federal law does allow gambling on tribal lands. But the new compact also allows sports betting via the Hard Rock Digital app. Though servers are located on tribal lands, some legal analysts say that arrangement presents a potential hurdle, as bettors can wager from any location in the state.
Florida’s constitution could also put up a roadblock. A 2018 amendment requires voters to approve any gambling expansion, though it does permit the state to negotiate separate deals “for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands.” It’s unclear whether a push to put the compact before voters will succeed.
Duran said he spoke about those legal concerns this week with the Seminole Tribe and was told they’re confident the deal will pass muster.
The third-term lawmaker said he has been in contact with Democratic Co-Leader Evan Jenne and Democratic Rep. Joe Geller in recent weeks to assess the new proposal. Reps. Tracie Davis, Fentrice Driskell and Dianne Hart have also been working to iron out the Democrats’ position ahead of the Special Session.
Based in South Florida, Duran said the statewide deal has an outsized local effect.
“We have a lot of pari-mutuels located within South Florida that will be impacted by this some way or another,” Duran said. “I have to continue to go through the questions, and go deeply into it.”
Duran also said he has heard from fellow Democrats who are worried about revenues going into the general fund, as opposed to more targeted spending toward, for instance, mental health resources that could help with gambling addiction or other issues. And, of course, there’s the general hesitation about expanding gaming, which has held up deals in years past.
“For many Democrats, and I think Republicans, you have a set of folks who are concerned about a massive expansion of gambling in general,” Duran said, adding he expects a “tough vote count” in the House.
Duran said he’s not outright opposed to the existing arrangement but isn’t looking to “rubber stamp” it either.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it in a way that ensures that we — at the state level, at least — generate some real, worthwhile profits,” Duran said.