Brian Ballard: Long-term gaming stability may be in partnerships between Seminole Tribe, pari-mutuels

sports betting
Longtime hostile adversaries now are in business together.

A critical foundation for long-term stability in the freshly-ratified, 30-year Seminole Compact for gambling in Florida is coalescing from the newly-authorized business partnerships between previously competitive adversaries, lobbyist Brian Ballard suggested.

Ballard, whose Ballard Partners lobbying firm represents several interests in the gambling package the Legislature approved in last week’s Special Session — including three pari-mutuel companies in Florida — pointed out that for the first time ever the Seminole Tribe of Florida and its Florida gambling competition, the pari-mutuels, can become partners.

Those partnerships — should they actually materialize — could arise from the new sports betting deal. Under the compact, the Tribe will control sports betting in Florida. But the Tribe could license sports betting operations to the pari-mutuels, allowing them to open their own sports betting lounges. The two would split the net winnings.

So now, after decades of battles over gambling between the Tribe and the pari-mutuels, one side’s winnings could help the other side prosper.

“I think it has ushered in an era,” Ballard said. “I have been a lobbyist that has really fought with the Tribe for 20 years. I think this has ushered in an era where cooperation with the Tribe is the only way that the Tribe can be successful and prosperous and the pari-mutuels can be too. Being a good partner with the Tribe, I think it’s good business for pari-mutuels.”

Ballard Partners represents three pari-mutuel interests: Delaware North, which owns the Orange City Racing & Card Club and Daytona Beach Racing & Card Club; the Rooney family, who has the Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach; and Churchill Downs, which operates the Calder Casino in Miami Gardens.

Ballard Partners also had skin from the fantasy sports companies, which may be walking away from last week’s Special Session without the big win they sought in the sports betting game, yet with enough chips that could turn into decent winnings from now clearly legalized Florida fantasy sports business; and with a designated player game technology company which should benefit from the expanded game rooms allowed in the deal.

Most of the pari-mutuels now see value in supporting the Tribe.

“My clients, certainly the Rooneys and Delaware North, recognize that wholeheartedly, and we really look forward to a wonderful working relationship with the Tribe,” Ballard said. “I think that’s the biggest difference. That’s why this legislation passed, because people in the industry said it’s time we stopped fighting and work together.”

That’s a big break from the hostile history of gambling in Florida over the past several decades. The Seminole Tribe and the pari-mutuels battled off and on through the Legislature and in courts, trying to outmaneuver each other in the legal frameworks for gambling in Florida.

Sports betting lounges should bring far more benefit to the pari-mutuels than just the sport betting winnings, Ballard noted. It should drive more people to the pari-mutuel’s casinos. That would allow them to create lucrative entertainment complexes.

Still, the initial sports betting proposal might not have been enough. Ballard noted the late negotiations on the compact were critical in making the sports betting lounges attractive to the pari-mutuels.

“The initial sportsbook cut was 75%-25%, pro-Tribe. At the end of the day it became 60%-40%, pro-pari-mutuel, which is a huge difference,” he said. “I think the governor’s office negotiated a fabulous deal on behalf of the pari-mutuel industry.”

“I don’t think they (lawmakers) could have passed it without really changing those percentages, to gain enough people’s support,'” he added.

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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