Despite a federal judge throwing out Florida’s Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe, Gov. Ron DeSantis has kept the anticipated revenue from that agreement in his budget proposal for the next fiscal year.
The Joe Biden administration had issued its OK for the Compact, which was supposed to bring in a minimum of $500 million a year for the next five years. But U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled last month that sports betting provisions within the deal allowed people to place bets while not on Tribe property, violating the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
However, DeSantis doesn’t expect that to be the last word. He expects the Compact to survive on appeal.
The deal outlines a “hub and spoke” approach to sports betting that would allow players to bet using the Tribe’s Sportsbook app, operated through servers on tribal land. DeSantis and the Tribe believed that would be challenged in court and so left an opt-out provision. But Friedrich nixed the entire deal.
“What the federal judge did, to say that that was something that, under IGRA, fails, that throws into doubt some other things that other Indian tribes are doing, and other states, and so I think a lot of people said that’s very problematic,” DeSantis said.
The Governor’s Office factored the anticipated $500 million in revenue into its $99.7 billion-plus spending proposal, which DeSantis unveiled Thursday. In addition to guaranteeing $2.5 billion over five years, the Compact lined up $6 billion over the next decade.
The Governor defended his decision to take a risk with the sports betting provision.
“I recognize this was not in my hands. You can run a referendum and pass it at any time, and if some company passes a sports betting referendum, the Tribe gets it anyways,” DeSantis said. “So they were going to get it one way or another, and so I felt that it made sense to do this. And I think we’re going to end up being in good shape on it.”
Despite taking the risk on a matter that could run afoul of state and federal law, the Governor called signing the deal a smart decision, pointing to the millions in revenue.
“They have the most profitable casino in the United States — actually one of the most profitable in the world — in Tampa. They do very well in Hollywood, and they weren’t paying anything to the state,” DeSantis said.
However, DeSantis blamed the Biden administration for inadequately defending the Compact before Friedrich.
“We were disappointed in the Department of Justice’s presentation in front of the judge,” DeSantis said. “It was not something that they seemed to put their best foot forward on.”
That echoed comments from Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, who declared that Biden owes Florida $500 million a year.
However, Democrats had warned that the Florida Constitution requires voters to approve gaming expansions. Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani told reporters Thursday she believes DeSantis is embarrassed the deal fell apart.
“His efforts to dramatize this beyond what it really is I think, is a reflection of his embarrassment that the deal he brokered didn’t actually go through,” Eskamani said.
DeSantis’ budget proposal includes $26 million to fund the new Florida Gaming Control Commission.