The House is set to vote on it Wednesday

Florida Senate greenlights gaming, sports betting compact with Seminole Tribe

The Florida Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to approve the 2021 Gaming Compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the State of Florida.
Reading time 3:14 min
The Senate voted 38-1 Tuesday to approve a gambling agreement signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe, which would be able to add roulette and craps to its casinos and launch sports betting on Oct. 15. The approved legislation package includes a new gaming commission and a bill to stop requiring live racing to also offer other gambling.

The Florida Senate approved a $2.5 billion compact Tuesday with the Seminole Tribe that would bring sports betting to the state. The House also advanced bills that set the grounds for a gambling expansion.

By a 38-1 vote, the Senate approved the new, 30-year compact signed last month by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the tribe, and the Legislature is poised to finalize votes Wednesday and end this week’s special session, called solely to consider the deal, as reported by Tallahassee Democrat. The compact guarantees $500 million for the state for each of its first five years and could net Florida more than $20 billion over the next three decades.

The Senate also approved a bill that would allow jai alai frontons, dog tracks and a harness racing track in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to keep operating slots and card rooms without holding live events. Other pari-mutuels in the state would be able to continue operating card rooms without live events, with the exception of thoroughbred horse tracks, which would have to hold live racing. Also on Tuesday, a House committee passed a measure to continue requiring live racing to also offer other gambling. Live harness racing with standardbred horses is only at one track in Broward County, Pompano Park.


Only Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, voted against the deal, saying it was wrong to give the Seminole Tribe a monopoly over sports betting. But Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, who steered the package, defended it as worthwhile and pointed to the bounty of dollars that would pour into the state treasury for needed services.

The compact must still win approval from the U.S. Interior Department, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. And the expansion, along with accompanying changes to the state’s gambling landscape included in other bills approved Tuesday also are virtually guaranteed to be subject to lawsuits. Among the potential hurdles is whether any expansion should be put before voters, under terms of a constitutional amendment approved in 2018 by 71% of Florida voters.

“This was our part, we do the legislative part,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. “If we were to pontificate on every possible outcome that lawyers believe could happen, or courts, we would never do anything. I think we’ve got a great product.”

Per the new deal, the Seminole Tribe would run the sportsbook for online betting in Florida, with horse- and dog-tracks and jai-alai frontons contracting with the tribe. The tracks and frontons would pull in 60% of the amount bet through their facilities, with the rest going to the tribe, under terms of the proposed compact.

Later Tuesday, the House Select Committee on Gaming passed all of its legislation, including language saving harness racing, which puts the House in conflict with the Senate's legislation. Bills also died Tuesday that would have regulated fantasy sports play. "We'll take up their bills tomorrow and we'll see where it goes," said House committee chair Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, of the Senate's legislation. 

More than 20 states now offer some kind of sports betting. But to sidestep the voter-approved Amendment 3, requiring casino expansion to go before voters, DeSantis’ compact offer grants the Seminole Tribe the right to host sports betting at its seven casinos, and adding three more on tribal property in coming years.

Another bill that is part of the legislative package will establish a new Florida Gaming Control Commission, a five-member panel appointed by DeSantis, that will regulate gambling in the state – outside Seminole lands. The $136,000-a-year commission post would be eligible to lawmakers – who Tuesday stripped out a provision that would have required them to wait at least two years after leaving office from being appointed.

One provision of the compact also drew controversy Tuesday for allowing current pari-mutuels to sell their permits to another facility – without violating the compact as long as the new location is at least 15 miles away from a tribal property. The Trump National Doral resort in Miami-Dade County and the Fontainebleau Miami Beach are already being talked of as possible casino locations.

Around 200 people gathered on the Historic Capitol steps to oppose the compact, having been brought in on buses from Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando by the conservative Florida Family Policy Council. Rep. Mike Beltran of Valrico was the only lawmaker to speak against the compact. 

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