Florida lawmakers return for special session to hash out gaming deal

by | May 17, 2021


Florida lawmakers are set to reconvene at the State Capitol this week to consider last month’s gaming deal struck between Florida and the Seminole Tribe.

Officials are making the trip back to Tallahassee, holding a special session just two weeks after the 2021 Legislative Session concluded, to see if they can pave an avenue to make sports gambling a reality in the Sunshine State. The new compact, reached last month between the Tribe and Governor Ron DeSantis, could legalize sports betting in the country’s third most populous state, expanding the gambling scene and giving Floridians the ability to wager on sporting events.

The deal would give the Tribe exclusive rights over sports betting in the state, allowing the Tribe to open statewide mobile sports wagering and retail sportsbooks, which would only be offered through their own Hard Rock facilities as through state pari-mutuels. Additionally, the Tribe would add three additional casinos — in Hollywood, Fla. — and oversee craps and roulette gaming exclusively. In return, the Seminoles would pay the state of Florida $500 million a year, or $150 million more than the old deal. The agreement could generate the state a minimum of $2.5 billion in new revenue over the next five years and an estimated $6 billion through 2030. The monumental deal could also be a boon for Florida’s economy, with officials saying it could create 2,200 jobs.

But getting the pact across the finish line may be a Sisyphean task, according to experts.

Standing in the way of DeSantis putting a cherry on top of a successful session — which included passing his top legislative priorities — are hurdles that could derail the progress made by both parties, The multi-billion-dollar compact will likely need to clear three big hurdles: the state legislature; a likely pit stop at the Florida Supreme Court; and then, depending on the outcome there, a final stop with Florida voters who will decide the deal’s fate.

Business groups like the nonprofit No Casinos, who were instrumental in putting gaming expansion in the hands of voters with Amendment 3 in 2018, are ramping up efforts in opposition of the deal, vowing to defend the constitution by challenging the legality of the Compact. The Orlando-based anti-gambling group launched a statewide campaign earlier this month to shed light on the constitutional amendment, which received 71 percent approval from statewide voters. Because of this, the group argues that the future of gaming will be decided by the courts, not the legislature.

Despite the push back, the Tribe remains optimistic that Florida voters will get behind the expansion. In a statewide 30-second spot released in the lead-up to this week’s session, the Tribe touted the established “trust” with Florida voters and the job-creating potential of the gambling proposal.

The Legislature is set to use the entire week to hash out the future of sports betting but hopes to complete its work as soon as Wednesday.

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