Talks swirl about a possible gambling deal

by | Mar 19, 2021


Nearly three weeks into the 2021 legislative session, Gov. Ron DeSantis is floating the possibility of striking a gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe (EDITOR’S NOTE: the secret negotiations were first reported by The Capitolist three weeks ago). The Republican governor on Thursday said the issue will be resolved or taken off the table “within the next week or so.” DeSantis’ remarks came after he met with operators of the state’s pari-mutuel facilities Thursday morning.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, who has tried to nail down an agreement with the Seminoles, also met with pari-mutuel operators on Thursday. Cementing a perennially elusive deal remains a long shot, however, especially as Florida is set to receive billions of additional dollars in federal stimulus money.

The state and the Seminoles have been locked in a fight over “designated player” card games offered at many pari-mutuel facilities throughout Florida. Those games led the Seminoles last year to stop making payments to the state that totaled at least $350 million annually.

After meeting with the pari-mutuel operators, DeSantis indicated he is unlikely to look favorably on a deal that would harm them.

“Ultimately, I don’t represent the Seminoles. I represent Florida businesses and employees. We want to make sure those folks are able to do well under whatever arrangement may be reached between the state of Florida and the nation of the Seminole Indian tribe,” he said. “We will see what comes of that, but something will come up of it, probably one way or another. Within the next week or so, I think we’ll know whether we have a path to have an agreement or whether that agreement may remain elusive going forward.”

Simpson told reporters later Thursday that he wants to finalize a deal, known as a compact, with the tribe. “We would certainly like to get a compact finished,” Simpson, R-Trilby, said.

Simpson struck a deal with the Seminoles two years ago but DeSantis rejected the plan months after he took office in 2019, saying he needed more time to explore the matter. The Senate president noted that the state has lost $700 million since the tribe stopped its payments. Simpson said he and the pari-mutuel operators spoke in “generalities” about a possible framework of a compact.

“So I think we’ve got a format, at least, that we can continue the conversation under,” he said. “We’re getting close with what I would say is the 100,000-foot level of understanding.”

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, meanwhile, pointed out that the Legislature has failed to approve any compact in the six years that he’s served in the House. The issue is “wildly complex,” the speaker told reporters Thursday.

“The reality is every time I think of gaming, I think of that song you sang when you were a kid, when you learned about the human body. You know, the foot bone’s connected to the knee bone. It’s all connected together,” Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor said.

Sprowls and Simpson are “having a holistic conversation” about gambling in Florida, the speaker said. “I am open to something that makes sense to the state but I’m not going to have individual conversations about gaming that are siloed from the rest,” he said.

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