The Wrap: DeSantis, Seminoles set collision course with Florida Constitution

by | Apr 25, 2021

Every weekend, we take a look at the news stories shaping the conversations in Florida’s business, policy and political worlds. Here’s this weekend’s Capitolist wrap-up, which we call “The Wrap.”

Voters may have final say on Seminole Compact

Just announced with great fanfare, the newly negotiated 2021 Gaming Compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the State of Florida could become one of Governor Ron DeSantis‘s signature achievements. But before he installs that particularly fine feather in his cap, the deal he negotiated will likely need to clear two, and perhaps even 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 final fate.

First things first. Despite conservative dominance in both the legislative and judicial venues, or perhaps because of it, approval of the Compact at either of those stops is not a sure thing. A special session will be required for state lawmakers to consider the provisions in the deal, which is slated to begin May 17th, and any number of twists and turns could derail the train.

For one thing, the special session need not focus solely on the compact. Lawmakers have the authority to take up other matters, introducing complications that could play a role in derailing the entire compact or at least some of the legislation that may be necessary to satisfy all the parties involved. This year’s special session promises to be one of the most heavily-lobbied gathering of lawmakers Florida has seen in a decade. You can bet that pari mutuel lobbyists from across the Sunshine State are making sure their vaccination cards are up to date, because next month, Zoom meetings alone won’t get the job done. Some old fashioned, look-them-in-the-eye meetings are going to be necessary to ensure nobody’s getting double-crossed, stabbed in the back, or hoodwinked.

Lobbyist influence alone will be significant, especially so when added to the expectations of the governor and legislative leaders, putting pressure on Republican lawmakers to approve not only the original deal, but also pass any additional legislation necessary to satisfy pari mutuel operators in the state. Already, Associated Industries of Florida, one of the more powerful business groups in Florida, has come out in favor of ratification.

“The new gaming compact signed today will create thousands of jobs for Floridians, boost tourism and the economy, and generate significant revenue for the state.” said Brewster Bevis, AIF’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, “With this new agreement, the Governor and Tribe are not only transforming the gaming industry in Florida, but also creating meaningful long-term positive impacts for our state.”

Other prominent leaders, including House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson, either played a direct role in the negotiations or voiced immediate support for the deal. That’s a lot of firepower and legislative leverage, all of it capable of exerting pressure on any holdouts who oppose the deal.

But even if the legislature ratifies the agreement and manages to navigate the pari mutuel minefield during the special session, the Compact must still pass muster with the seven justices on the Florida Supreme Court. The question they’ll likely be faced with is whether or not the compact constitutes an “expansion” of gaming in the state. A 2018 amendment says quite plainly that voters must approve any expansion of gaming in Florida.

Clever lawyers will argue that adding new games on sovereign Seminole Tribe lands, and allowing sports betting is not, technically, an expansion of “casino gaming” in the state of Florida. They’ll likely argue that while the Compact may expand gaming on Seminole territory, it doesn’t expand “casino gaming” anywhere else, because, they’ll say, sports betting isn’t a “casino game,” per se, it’s a game of skill, not of chance, and while the bets might be made at pari mutuel facilities all over the state, or even over cell phone apps controlled by casinos, racinos and other gaming operators in Florida, that sort of gambling action is still not technically an expansion because, ahem, the servers that keep track of all this new gambling are located on Seminole Tribe lands, and so, therefore, the deal doesn’t trigger the constitutional requirement to seek approval from Florida’s voters.

No Casinos, the group that ran the campaign to pass the mandatory voter approval amendment in 2018, are already promising to take the issue to court. If they prevail, voters will have the final say on the matter.

Read the full compact below:


Click to access 2021%20Gaming%20Compact.pdf





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