Gov. DeSantis signs gaming bills with little fanfare

desantis, ron - seminole tribe
The Seminole Gaming Compact must next earn the federal government's approval.

With minimal fanfare, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a package of gaming bills Tuesday, including a measure ratifying his Compact with the Seminole Tribe.

The Governor hosted no public signing ceremony and issued no press release immediately following his signature. That contrasted how he touted other priorities, including on Monday when he signed a bill cracking down on Big Tech during a ceremony that ran nearly an hour.

The main bill (SB 2A) ratifies and implements the Governor’s 30-year agreement with the Seminole Tribe on gambling and related topics, which must next go to the federal government for approval. If OK’d, the Compact will bring in a guaranteed $500 million per year for the next five years and more than $6 billion by 2030.

Current law allows the Tribe to offer slots, banked card games, raffles and drawings. The Compact would expand that authorization to craps, roulette and fantasy sports contests.

Two of the bills (SB 4A & SB 6A) will establish the Florida Gaming Control Commission as the state’s lead law enforcement agency on gambling and create necessary public records protections around the agency’s investigations. Under the measure, a five-member committee — which must include an experienced lawyer, accountant and law enforcement member — will have criminal justice authority over gaming laws and pari-mutuel institutions such as card rooms and horse racing.

The final proposal (SB 8A) will make changes at racetracks and other gaming sites, allowing pari-mutuel facilities to convert solely to other forms of gambling. That offers operators some balance to the expansion of gambling being offered to the Seminole Tribe.

Rep. Dan Daley, a Coral Springs Democrat and the son of a standardbred horseman, unsuccessfully lobbied the Governor to veto that bill. He and his backers argued the changes would irreparably hurt the standardbred horse racing business, which only has one remaining racetrack.

The House passed all four bills Wednesday, the day after the Senate passed the package.

In a statement after that bill’s passage, DeSantis thanked Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr., Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and the Legislature for getting the Compact through.

“With this new Compact, the state will now see a large stream of reoccurring revenue to the tune of billions of dollars over the next few years. The deal will also create over 2,000 jobs,” the Governor said.

With the Governor’s signature, the next step will be to send the Compact to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which will have 45 days to sign off on the agreement under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Earlier this month, Sprowls told reporters that he had not been in direct talks with the federal government regarding the Compact. Meanwhile, Simpson told reporters he hoped the bill went far enough in modernizing gaming while still stopping at a point that could still win federal regulators’ approval.

“I think that you have to consider both edges of the sword,” Simpson said. “You have to consider the edges — did we push far enough to get enough money, or did we push too far and now we’ll get set down by the federal government?”

Another impending hurdle for the Compact is the lawsuit legislative leaders already consider inevitable.

No Casinos, the group that pushed for the creation of 2018’s Amendment 3, says the Compact violates that constitutional amendment. Allowing the Tribe to handle paid fantasy sports games is an expansion of gambling, the group argues, requiring voters to first approve the Compact before it can take effect.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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