Florida House signs off on gaming compact

by | May 19, 2021

 

The Florida House has voted to ratify a gaming compact struck last month between the Florida Seminole Tribe and Governor Ron DeSantis, a move that triggered an immediate response from opponents who are promising to take the matter to court because they say the deal violates the state constitution.

In a 97-17 vote, the House measure (HB 1A) was approved on Wednesday, laying the foundation for Florida to become the largest state with legal sports betting. The approval comes one day after the Florida Senate signed off on the compact in a 38-1 vote.

“Today, all the people of Florida are winners, thanks to legislative approval of the Gaming Compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida,” Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said in a statement after the House vote. “It is a historic and mutually beneficial partnership between the state and Seminole Tribe that will positively impact all Floridians for decades to come.”

The agreement will now go to the Governor’s desk before heading to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) for review. The proposed gaming compact creates a new revenue-sharing agreement with a $2.5 billion guarantee in the first five years. The deal also authorizes craps and roulette games at Seminole properties, additional facilities on the Tribe’s Hollywood Reservation, and statewide online sports betting in partnership with existing pari-mutuels.

While the compact was approved with broad bipartisan support, some legislators asked whether the deal falls under the “expansion of gaming,” and the group No Casinos is promising to file a lawsuit to prove that it violates the state constitution.

“This fight is just beginning,” said John Sowinski, CEO of No Casinos, “We are committed to ensuring that the will of the people, who voted by a remarkable 72 point landslide to give Florida voters the exclusive right to authorize casino gambling in our state, will be respected.”

Amendment 3 from 2018 — which was adopted with a 71 percent approval from Floridians — put gaming expansion in the hands of voters. Opponents of the compact argued that the compact violates the state constitutional amendment, noting that the state could have made a better deal.

“When I hear this does not trigger Amendment 3, I think it’s laughable. We’re going to be in court. We’re going to lose, and we’re going to see this on the ballot,” said Democratic State Representative Mike Grieco. “If you vote yes on this Compact, you are voting to expand gambling in the state of Florida.”

While the new deal could become one of the Governor’s signature achievements, experts say it will face intense legal scrutiny before reaching its final destination because of the sports betting provision.

Republican State Representative Randy Fine, a former casino executive who chaired the House Select Committee on Gaming, noted that the sports betting component of the compact faces an uphill battle.

“It is a good deal for our state,” said Fine. “Could we get a better deal? I don’t know. I’d like to think I could, sure. But I don’t have that choice. I have this deal and a closer path to a million and half dollars a day.

“Me personally, I don’t think it’s going to survive,” Fine concluded.

GOP leadership agreed with Fine’s assessment, adding that a legal challenge is inevitable given the “size and scope” of the gaming deal.

“We expect this will probably be litigated,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls following the vote.

If approved by DOI under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the Tribe can begin sports betting Oct. 15 and operate sports wagering at horse tracks, jai alai frontons and former dog tracks for a share of the income. Online sports betting operated by the Tribe will also be allowed.

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.

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