With a fresh signature from Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida’s much-talked-about gaming Compact now heads from Tallahassee to Washington to go before the U.S. Department of Interior for approval.
The agreement, also called a compact, is a result of negotiations between DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, has 45 days to sign off on the agreement under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which allows the Legislature to negotiate contracts for “casino gambling on tribal lands.”
During the Special Session many legislators wondered out loud whether that stipulation — “on tribal lands” — could end up being a sticking point. Because some provisions of the Compact allow sports betting at pari-mutuel facilities that are not located on tribal land, under the idea that the servers used for the bets are.
Rep. Sam Garrison, who co-sponsored the bills, admitted the provision is an “open legal question.”
George Skibine, an expert on the IGRA, was hired by the state to provide guidance about the federal processes.
“That issue is going to be an issue that the (federal) department pays very close attention to,” Skibine said during testimony before lawmakers.
Jim Allen, the Seminole Tribe of Florida CEO of Seminole Gaming and Chairman of Hard Rock International, testified to assuage concerns lawmakers might have.
“We believe the actual transaction of the bet occurs at our servers, similar to other states,” Allen said. “The conferences that we had with Interior, we think there is a high probability they will approve this.”
Allen said the Seminole Tribe had been in contact with the U.S. Department of the Interior, the federal agency that will review the Compact, throughout negotiations.
But even if the U.S. Department of the Interior does approve the compact, it could still be challenged in court under the idea that the addition of sports betting could be viewed as an “expansion” of gaming, which, under Amendment 3 of the Florida Constitution, must be approved by voters.
John Sowinski, President of a group called No Casinos, is already threatening to challenge the Compact in court. Sowinski said the Compact violates Amendment 3, which requires voters to decide on any gaming expansion in the state. No Casinos is the group that worked to get the amendment passed in 2018.