House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced Monday that Florida will no longer pursue online casino gaming as part of its Compact with the Seminole Tribe.
The announcement marks a major blow to gaming enthusiasts and those hopeful to broaden gambling in the state. Speaking atop the House rostrum, Sprowls explained that many lawmakers shared a specific concern regarding the provision.
“Some language in the Compact could be construed to lead to the backdoor expansion of online gaming,” Sprowls said. “Even the mere possibility of this was unacceptable.”
Sprowls and others, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, “engaged directly” with the Seminole Tribe over the issue. Ultimately, the state’s addendum removes “any and all conversation on statewide online casino gaming in the State of Florida,” Sprowls said.
The announcement came minutes into the opening of a week-long Special Session in Tallahassee, where lawmakers will explore a new gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe.
The Compact, a 75-page document, will determine gaming’s longterm future in Florida.
However, the inclusion of online gaming was a sticking point for many lawmakers, and their ranks were growing as the Special Session got underway.
The online gaming provision required the state and tribe to enter “good faith negotiations” on allowing online casino games within the next three years.
Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine said the online gaming clause was “by far the No. 1 issue” with the Gaming Compact.
“People were not comfortable with agreeing to online sports machines from your couch. As Sheldon Adelson used to say, he liked you have to put on a pair of pants to go gamble.”
Removing the provision brought some reticent lawmakers back into the yay column, which will likely lead to lawmakers quickly OK’ing the Compact and heading home as soon as Wednesday.
The Legislature must ratify the Compact before it goes into effect. If approved, leaders expect the state to collect $2.5 billion in new revenue over the next five years and $6 billion through 2030.
“I appreciate the Tribe and Gov. DeSantis understanding the gravity of our concerns and amending the Compact…,” Sprowls added. “I also want to thank President Simpson and our Senate counterparts for continuing to be steadfast partners throughout this entire endeavor.”
Among those standing center stage of the Special Session: Sen. Travis Hutson.
Hutson, a St. Johns Republican who chairs the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, will carry nine bills into the Senate Appropriations Committee, including the formal deal, and legislation concerning a state gaming control commission, bingo and fantasy sports.
“We didn’t want to jump into the deep end,” Hutson told Florida Politics about the addendum. “We wanted to dip our toes in the water for sports betting before we went full online.”
Despite DeSantis’ blessing, the move to broaden gaming faces staunch opposition from various groups who object to the expansion for a variety of moral or political reasons.
Notably, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is among those to voice opposition to the compact.
In a statement, Bush said “now is not the time” to broaden casino gambling in Florida. Among other provisions, the deal would allow slots and card rooms to operate at all hours through the whole week instead of just weekends.
The Legislature is authorized to meet through Friday, though Sprowls said the Session will likely conclude Wednesday.
A copy of the addendum is featured below.