Dan Gelber, Philip Levine argue voters should have a say in new gaming deal

dan gelber
The two pointed to a state amendment, which could pose hurdles for the new proposal.

Multiple Miami-Dade County leaders spoke out Monday against a new gaming proposal, arguing Florida voters should get a say in the process.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine attended Monday’s news conference. Armando Codina, founder and executive chairman of Codina Partners, and Stephen Sawitz, who owns the iconic Joe’s Stone Crab, also spoke out against the proposed compact with the Seminole Tribe. The Legislature began meeting Monday to hammer out the final parameters of the arrangement.

“The citizens of the State of Florida were very clear in their mandate when we approved Amendment 3 in 2018: We are the ones that must decide gambling in our state,” Gelber said.

“What we’re watching is the Florida Legislature approving this law in back rooms and yachts. We need to let the people of Florida vote.”

Gelber is referring to a 2018 ballot measure requiring voters to approve any gambling expansion. The amendment does, however, allow the state to negotiate deals “for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands.”

Legal experts have debated whether the new proposal between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida is a valid expansion under that language. On Monday, GOP lawmakers did strip out language permitting digital sports betting. That was seen as a major hurdle, given it allowed for betting outside tribal lands.

But the Compact would also allow the Seminoles to serve as a hub for online sports betting, with pari-mutuel operators contracting with the Tribe. Pari-mutuels would get to keep 60% of sports-betting revenue, with 40% going to the Seminoles. The Tribe would pay the state up to 14% on the net winnings. Online sports betting is not affected by removing the provision that could have led to legalizing other online wagering.

Opponents of the proposed Compact maintain that the sports betting authorization violates a 2018 constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 3, which required statewide voter approval of future expansions of gambling.

Rep. Sam Garrison, a Fleming Island Republican who is co-sponsoring legislation to ratify the compact, told a House panel Monday that the sports betting provision could be problematic.

“There’s a legitimate question and legal question as to whether or not the sports gaming, with the hub-and-spoke model as contemplated in the compact, triggers Amendment 3,” Garrison, a lawyer, said. “It’s an open legal question. Period.”

Even with the online wagering amendment, Gelber, Levine and others are still voicing concerns, specifically regarding its impact in South Florida.

“The compact gives the opportunity to open up casinos in Miami Beach, Miami and Doral,” Levine said. “A casino is for a city that finds itself in a bad situation and throws a Hail Mary. This is not Miami Beach. The people of Miami Beach don’t want casinos. Let the people of Florida make this decision.”

Several existing casinos — in South Florida and elsewhere — will be impacted by the arrangement, which allows for on-site sports betting and decouples pari-mutuel gambling operations from live events. That reality, opponents argue, means voters deserve a say in the process.

Codina echoed Levine’s concerns that the arrangement would also lead to new casino sites popping up.

“This pandemic brought unimaginable human suffering, and while all this was happening, our Republican leadership was hard at work on a gaming bill behind closed doors,” he said.

“This is not how the process should work. The leadership in Tallahassee says that the Compact does not allow portability of licenses, but that is not true. It includes a provision whereby the Tribe is waiving objection of licenses being moved for new casinos outside of a 15-mile radius from the Seminole Casino in Hollywood, which was specifically designed to allow gaming in The Fontainebleau Miami Beach and Trump National Doral Miami.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson has specifically spoken out about that possibility, saying such moves are not on lawmakers’ agenda this year.

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

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]



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