Seminole Tribe says its gaming rights, Florida’s revenue payments are at risk again

Gambling and law concept, playing cards, money, dices and wooden judge gavel
'The Proposed amendment ... threatens to disrupt a contractual relationship that has been highly beneficial to both parities.'

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has charged in a court filing that if a judge breathes new life into a North Florida casino initiative, and it gets on the ballot and wins approval, that could infringe on the Tribe’s exclusive rights.

If that happens, the Tribe cautioned, then the Seminoles’ hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue sharing payments to Florida — only recently resumed after a three-year dispute — could be disrupted again.

Based on those arguments, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper accepted the Tribe and its political committee, Standing Up For Florida, as interveners in a lawsuit filed earlier this week by Florida Voters In Charge, which is trying to resurrect its North Florida casino campaign.

Florida Voters In Charge, a group backed by the Las Vegas Sands Corp. of Nevada, had been trying to get enough verified petition signatures to qualify a North Florida casino proposal for the November General Election ballot. But that campaign fell short at Tuesday’s statutory deadline.

On Monday, in anticipation of that missed deadline, the group sued Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, seeking to get a judge to grant more time for petition processing. The group charged that flaws in state law and in the ways county officials had been processing petitions prevented the campaign’s success. The group contended it had turned in plenty of petitions but a large number never got processed.

Judge Cooper has not made any decisions regarding the strength of those claims.

The casino Florida Voters In Charge is pursuing could create new competition for the Tribe’s Hard Rock casinos in South Florida and Tampa.

The Tribe sought to intervene in the lawsuit based on the Seminoles’ 2010 Gambling Compact with the state of Florida. That pact briefly had been superseded by a new pact, the 2021 Gambling Compact, which was negotiated and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis early last year. That agreement was approved by the Legislature in May and OK’d by federal officials in August. But the 2021 pact was invalidated and tossed by a federal court in November.

The 2010 Compact still exists and is set to run through 2030, the Tribe noted in the case before Cooper.

“The Seminole Tribe is party to a compact with the State of Florida entered in 2010,” read the Tribe’s motion to intervene.

The Tribe noted that its 2010 Compact still gives it exclusive rights to offer slot machines and similar devices in Florida “with narrow exceptions not relevant to this matter” and that the Tribe had agreed to share revenue with the state in exchange for that exclusivity.

“The proposed amendment if passed would be an infringement on the Tribe’s right to exclusivity under the Compact and threatens to disrupt a contractual relationship between the Tribe and the State that has been highly beneficial to both parties,” the Tribe’s court filing claims.

The Tribe has previously, for several years, claimed breaches of its exclusivity rights under that 2010 Compact. The Tribe had not provided any revenue to the state for about three years, starting in mid-2018.

Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said Friday the Seminoles had resumed payments under the 2021 Gaming Compact, and had made their most recent payment to the state last month even though the 2021 Compact had been tossed by the federal court.

The Tribe and the U.S. Department of the Interior are appealing the November federal court decision.

The 2021 Gaming Compact had assured annual payments of at least $500 million in revenue sharing.

The 2010 Gaming Compact had led to payments as high as $350 million.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports, through Dec. 31, Florida Voters In Charge had spent $45 million on its effort.

Last week, another proposed constitutional amendment to legalize online sports betting in Florida folded, recognizing it had no chance of reaching petition requirements by Tuesday. Florida Education Champions, the organization funded by the big daily fantasy sports platforms DraftKings and FanDuel, was much further behind in the process than Florida Voters In Charge. The sports betting campaign announced Jan. 28 it was reassessing long-term options.

The Seminole Tribe, seeking to protect its market, spent big on counter-campaigning against both gambling petitions, trying to convince Florida voters not to sign. The Tribe’s Standing Up For Florida campaign spent $20 million on advertising opposing the petition efforts.

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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