Gov. Ron DeSantis rebuked a call Thursday for the federal government to reject Florida’s latest gaming deal with the Seminole Tribe, dubbing that effort “idiotic” and politically motivated.
Earlier Thursday morning, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior calling the Seminole Gaming Compact a violation of state and federal law to expand the industry in Florida. Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the department and Secretary Deb Haaland must sign off on state gaming agreements.
Gelber, a Democrat, says the Compact was negotiated with corrupt intent.
“It was simply a vehicle hijacked by non-tribal casino interests who fully corrupted the legislative and executive process in order to obtain advantages outside of tribal land and in direct contravention to the interests of Floridians,” Gelber wrote in a nine-page letter.
DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. signed the Compact April 23 and sent it to lawmakers for approval. DeSantis signed the bill ratifying the agreement last week, starting the Interior Department’s 45-day clock to approve the plan, reject it or allow it to go into effect without the federal agency’s action.
A provision in the Compact that opens the door to private casinos that are more than 15 miles from the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood stoked fears that casinos could crop up in resorts like Fontainebleau Miami Beach and former President Donald Trump‘s National Doral Miami. Both resorts fall outside what Gelber called an “otherwise fully random geographic limiter.”
The Fontainebleau’s owner, Jeffrey Soffer, donated to DeSantis’ campaign and met with key lawmakers, leading to the hijacking suspicion.
“Is there any basis to say that? Is there anything in the Compact that you can point to to say it was hijacked?” DeSantis answered reporters. “In fact, they’re not getting anything out of this. There’s nothing to do with that. That is just pure, idiotic politics.”
Transferring casino permits requires the Legislature’s approval. Ahead of the Special Session on gaming, Senate President Wilton Simpson shut down speculation around transferring one of Soffer’s existing permits to the Fontainebleau.
“There’s not going to be any type of transfer within Miami-Dade County. The Legislature flatly rejected that,” DeSantis added.
The Compact gives the Tribe authority over fantasy sports games. But the games’ online nature raises questions over whether those games take place on tribal lands. The fantasy sports component violates IGRA by expanding gambling outside tribal lands, Gelber contends.
Moreover, expanding gaming in Florida requires the public’s consent, per a 2018 state constitutional amendment.
DeSantis called Gelber’s fears ridiculous.
“Why would I want to agree to a Compact that’s going to trigger a violation potentially, especially for things I may not be able to (have) control over in the future? Who knows what’ll end up happening?” he said.
“I think it’s just an example of some of these partisan politicians always trying to elevate themselves with any type of cheap headline they can get trying to inject Trump into this.”
Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat and member of the Pueblo of Laguna Tribe, is President Joe Biden‘s Secretary of the Interior. She is the first Native American to serve in a Cabinet post.
IGRA gives Haaland only a handful of reasons to reject a Compact. The law allows tribes to conduct any types of gambling that are permitted anywhere else in the state. States can enter into revenue-sharing agreements with tribes in exchange for offering them “exclusivity” for certain types of gambling activities or certain geographic areas.
Federal officials will “look at the Compact and see if there are any provisions in there that are problematic,” said George Skibine, whose lengthy career with the Department of the Interior included a stint as director of the Office of Indian Gaming. Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, hired Skibine to advise the House about the Compact.
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. The state’s annual revenue from the deal could soon jump to $1 billion, DeSantis said.