A Senate panel has given its approval to a measure approving and implementing the 2021 Seminole Gaming Compact.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 18-1 Monday to approve the bill (SB 2A) implementing Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ Compact with the Seminole Tribe and an addendum signed Monday. That change removes online casino gambling and delays sports betting a few months.
The measure next heads to the Senate floor. House panels are expected to give their approval to a similar bill in the House (HB 1A) Monday and Tuesday.
St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who raised several questions around the sports betting provisions, was the lone vote against the bill.
Current law allows the Tribe to offer slots, banked card games, raffles and drawings. The Compact would expand that authorization to craps, roulette, fantasy sports contests and sports betting.
The addendum marks a major blow to gaming enthusiasts and those hopeful to broaden gambling in the state. Many lawmakers shared concerns regarding online casinos. Instead, the Tribe can come back in three years and try to strike a new deal again.
Sen. Travis Hutson, the St. Johns County Republican selected to shepherd the series of gaming bills through the Senate, said the provision gave heartburn to some members.
“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.”
Sports betting survives, but gets delayed until Oct. 15.
The Tribe would control the front end of any sports betting app in Florida. Industry players like FanDuel and DraftKings could contract to run the back end of the app.
That option hasn’t assuaged the fears of some in the industry. However, in an attempt to dispel that perception, Chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO Seminole Gaming Jim Allen told senators he has proposals from FanDuel and DraftKings and has been in conversations with Barstool and others.
“The Tribe is 100% interested and willing to create a business relationship with those companies, whether it be through the pari-mutuels or directly.
No Casinos President John Sowinski, who wrote the 2018 constitutional amendment requiring voters to approve any new casino gambling in Florida, has vowed to contest the Compact in court. The agreement with the Tribe violates that amendment, he argues.
“We just think that this opens doors and attempts to find creative ways around really what the intent of voters was, which was to lock the door and hold the key themselves,” he told senators.
Amendment 3 allows the state and tribes to negotiate compacts “for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands,” but Sowinski maintained that the language only applies to games taking place on tribal property, not on cell phones throughout Florida.
“Those words matter. They matter not just to folks in Washington D.C. in the Department of Interior who are going to be reading them, but they also matter to the voters of Florida. That has a meaning in Florida law, above and beyond its meaning in federal law,” Sowinski said.
Sowinski rejected the notion that the constitutional amendment would allow people to place sports wagers on cell phones anywhere in the state, as long as the servers are located on tribal lands.
“That dog don’t hunt,” he said.
The Compact guarantees billions for Florida over the next few years and more to come through the Compact’s 30 years it will be in effect.
“By not voting for the compact, the state is walking away from a minimum of $4 billion between now and 2030,” Allen said.
Before voting in favor of the bill, Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer commended the Seminole Tribe for its effort to strike a deal in good faith. Attempts to chip away at parts of the deal are testament to that deal, he added.
“I think we see again the reason why (it’s) the only tribe that remains unconquered to this day,” he said.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.