lorida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said Monday he and Republican leadership removed future online and mobile casino gambling from a proposed deal between the state and Seminole Tribe, adding that sports betting will not start until October 15 at the tribe’s seven casinos. On the same day, a House subcommittee approved a bill that would establish the Florida Gaming Control Commission as the state's lead law enforcement agency on gambling.
“I realized many shared the same concern as I, that some language in the compact could be construed to lead to the backdoor expansion of online gaming," Sprowls told House members during a special session Monday on gambling, which will last until at least Wednesday, as reported by Tallahassee Democrat. "Even the mere possibility of this was unacceptable."
The Palm Harbor Republican said he, Rules Committee chair Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, and Select Committee on Gaming chair Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, "engaged directly with the Seminole Tribe," who agreed to strike that language.
A "miscellaneous" section at the end of the 75-page gambling compact, if approved, would have allowed the state and tribe to negotiate yet another deal after three years to open up even more types of gambling to online and mobile play. The state stands to collect $2.5 billion over five years under terms of the 30-year compact.
Monday's move may have been designed to ease concerns among some lawmakers about the gambling deal. In another attempt to placate opponents, lawmakers endorsed the decision by the tribe and DeSantis to delay the start of sports betting in Florida till mid-October. That assumes the deal is passed by lawmakers this week and meets the approval of federal Indian gambling regulators under U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who ultimately must greenlight the agreement. Sprowls said the delay until fall will “assure the product is launched with appropriate safeguards.”
Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and chairman of Hard Rock International, later told reporters, "We were never prepared to launch sports betting" sooner in Florida, saying the needed "infrastructure" wasn't in place yet. "We want to make sure we get it right," he added. The tribe already has a sportsbook in its Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. and takes bets online and through an app in New Jersey.
Furthermore, House and Senate committees spent Monday advancing a handful of bills aimed at establishing the new compact and other matters related to the expansion, including creating a new Florida Gaming Control Commission. That panel, a five-member appointed commission with regulatory powers over the industry, would be similar to the Public Service Commission that regulates the state's utility industry.
House and Senate leaders said they expected the special session to wrap up by Wednesday. Based on testimony during committees Monday, the session looked certain to result in approval of the compact.
In order 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. The Seminole Tribe, a sovereign nation, is exempt from the requirements of Amendment 3.
As part of the deal, Florida pari-mutuel sites have been won over. They’ve long struggled with a dwindling fan base for horse-racing and jai-alai, with dog tracks now “decoupled” and not offering any racing.
Under the proposal, the Seminole Tribe would run the sports book for online betting in Florida, with the pari-mutuels 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. The special session continues Tuesday.