When Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, and the Seminole tribe announced that they had reached an agreement, lawmakers were relieved and praised the Governor for his ability to achieve what was once considered impossible. However, once details of the gaming expansion compact with the tribe were revealed, lawmakers and citizens alike shared their confusion and disapproval of specific aspects that were agreed upon. As a result, Florida’s legislature reconvened for a special session in May to deal with concerns and questions regarding the deal worth $2,5 billion.
The gaming expansion compact was signed by Marcellus Osceola Jr., chairman of the Seminole tribe, and Governor Ron DeSantis last month and is the result of more than five years worth of failed attempts at talking, negotiating and enduring ongoing legal battles between the tribe and the state. The gaming expansion pact that was signed this year, proposes the largest gaming and gambling expansion that the Sunshine State has seen in decades.
According to the terms of the compact, the Seminole tribe would have exclusive rights to land-based and mobile sports betting in Florida for the next 30 years. The tribe would also be permitted to offer craps and roulette games at their seven casino venues in Florida, located on tribal lands.
However, the legislature is still required to sign off on these terms but the tribe has guaranteed to pay the state $500 million in each for the first five years after the launch of these activities. This has put the state’s lawmakers in a confusing position, where failure to sign off on the compact could result in the state losing millions.
If Florida's lawmakers do not sign off on the compact during the special session, this will be the second time that the state has failed to accept negotiations between the Governor and the Seminole tribe. While many Floridians forget this, Florida’s previous governor, Rick Scott, negotiated a deal with the tribe to the value of $3 billion. The payments would have spread over a seven year period as opposed to the current deal’s five years. This negotiation took place in 2015 when PASPA had not yet been overturned and sports betting exclusivity was not a factor. The deal from 2015 included only roulette, craps and blackjack. This means that the former governor had negotiated a far better deal for the state.
Unfortunately, the legislature did not find the terms favourable and rejected the compact. In 2016, a federal court judge ruled in favour of the tribe regarding gaming rights in the state. According to the federal court, Florida state had violated it’s compact with the Seminole tribe by allowing racetracks to offer player designated games that are quite similar to casino-style gambling.
A federal judge ruled that the allowance of these games, at pari-mutuel venues, had infringed on the exclusivity negotiated by the tribe. This allowed the Seminole tribe to begin offering blackjack games at their tribal casinos, free of charge, until 2030. This ruling succeeded in weakening that state’s stance and hand during negotiations. The new deal has done away with exclusive rights to table games and has instead provided the tribe with exclusivity to sports betting which has seen great success in many other states.
The main question is whether Florida’s legislature would allow one of the biggest revenue-share compacts to be dubbed another failure. Industry watchers had indicated that the legislature would have no qualms doing just that. If history is anything to go by, legislators and chambers do not have a good track record of reaching a consensus on anything that is gaming-related. An industry analyst has taken to online media sources to share his opinion. According to the statement, anyone who has an interest in the outcome of this compact has hired a swarm of public relations professionals, lobbyists and enough lawyers to back their interest and see it through. With this many people interested in Florida’s gambling expansion, it was only a matter of time before cracks began to show.
Should both chambers manage to come to an agreement on the compact, the next hurdles would be legal challenges and federal approvals. The legal action is likely to stem from Floridians who voted on Amendment 3 in 2018. This altered the constitution and stipulates that residents be allowed to decide whether gaming expansion takes place in their state or not but does not allow the same power over tribal lands.
Gove. DeSantis has argued that while Floridians are not pleased, the gaming expansion is taking place on Seminole tribal lands and not in Florida. However, lawyers have indicated that this is a stretch, especially where mobile sports wagering is concerned.
The Seminole-DeSantis gaming compact is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 17th and could make it to the Senate floor by the next day. If all goes according to plan, the deal could reach the Senate floor before the end of May.