Florida Governor Ron DeSantis; Image: Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentenial
Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis approved an agreement that would allow the Seminole Tribe to run online sports betting and land-based betting and also include craps and roulette to its casinos. Besides this, DeSantis also signed a bill that created a Florida Gaming Control Commission and another that allowed jai alai fronts, harness racing track, and dog tracks to continue operating card and slots rooms without holding live events.
SB 2-A allowed a 30-year gambling contract inked by the Seminole Tribe and the governor. According to the terms of the contract, the tribe will have the advantage of running sports betting and also add craps and roulette to its casinos. As a result of the deal, Florida is likely to receive $20 billion for the next 30 years. To add to this, they will also receive $2.5 billion for the next five years of the deal. The tribe will also operate online sports betting.
According to Tampa Bay Times reports, the contract terms require the tribe to enter into a contract with at least three pari-mutuels during the first three months after sports betting is launched. The Seminoles tribe is not allowed to launch sports betting until mid-October. The U.S. Department of the Interior has 45 days after the approval of the compact to sign off on the deal, allow or reject. It can allow it to go into effect without necessarily going through the agency’s approval. Nevertheless, even the lawmakers pushing the deal expect some legal challenges.
Additionally, DeSantis, on the same day, signed SB4-A. This is a measure that will create a five-member Florida Gaming Control Commission. The governor will be responsible for appointing the members of the commission. Similarly, the appointed members will await confirmation by the Florida Senate before serving for four years.
The governor also signed off another measure that could potentially terminate most jai alai and live horse racing games in Florida. SB 8-A will go forth to allow pari-mutuel operators to drop quarter horse racing, jai alai, and harness racing. Still, they will maintain Miami-Dade, slot machines, Broward counties, and other lucrative card rooms. Following the voter approval of the 2018 constitutional amendment, this might imply that only thoroughbred horse races will be allowed in Florida tracks.
Lawmakers agreed to discard what is termed as “decoupling.” This is a requirement for quarter-horse and harness tracks and jai alai frontons. The measure will, however, take effect after the agreement goes into effect.
With a 38-1 vote, the Senate passed the 30-year pact that was signed by the tribe and gov. Ron DeSantis. The legislature is confident that votes would be finalized and bring an end to the week’s special event. The compact will guarantee $500 million for Florida in the first five years. The state could also collect over $20 billion over the next 30 years.
The Senate also passed a bill that will allow dog tracks, harness racing track, and jai alai frontons in Broward and Miami-Dade counties to continue operating card rooms and slots without having live events. Similarly, other pari-mutuels in Florida will continue running card rooms without offering live events, except for thoroughbred horse tracks, as they will have to offer live racing.
The House committee signed off a measure that will demand live racing to offer its fans other gambling options during the same day. Live harness racing offered using standardbred horses is only available in Pompano Park, Broward County.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg is the only individual that voted against the bill on Tuesday. He indicated that it was wrong to offer the tribe monopoly over sports betting. However, Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine championed the package arguing that it was worthwhile and would help generate more revenue into the state for important services.
The agreement must still gain approval from the U.S. Interior Department according to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Along with other relevant changes to the state’s gambling regulation in other bills passed on Tuesday, the expansion is subject to lawsuits. Among the challenges to be faced is whether the expansion should go through voters under the constitutional amendment terms approved in 2018.
According to Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, it’s the responsibility of the Senate to do the legislative part. He also added that if the Senate was to pontificate on all likely outcomes that lawyers expect to happen or courts, then they could never achieve anything. The Senate President made it clear that he believes they have a great product.
As per the new agreement, the tribe will run the online sports betting sportsbook in Florida with jai alai frontons and horse and dog tracks contracting with the Seminole tribe. Both the frontons and the tracks will bring about 60% of the wagered amount through their facilities; the rest will go to the tribe under the contract terms.
Over 20 states currently offer some kind of sports betting. The idea of sidestepping the voter-approved Amendment 3 required casino expansion to be presented before voters. The agreement signed by Gov. DeSantis grants the tribe the right to offer sports betting in their seven casinos. They might add three more on their tribal property later on.
There is also another bill that is inclusive of the legislative package. The bill will introduce a new Florida Gaming Control Commission. This will be a five-member committee appointed by DeSantis to regulate gambling in Florida. The lawmakers will earn a commission of $136,000 annually.
One of the compact’s provision was a source of contention on Tuesday because it allowed pari-mutuels to trade their permits to other facilities without breaching the agreement as long as the new premises was within 15 miles from a tribal property. Currently, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and the Trump National Doral resort situated in Miami-Dale Country are potential casino locations that are being talked about.
Approximately 200 individuals assembled at the Historic Capitol steps to reject the compact. They were ferried via buses from Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Orlando by the Florida Family Policy Council. Valrico’s Rep. Mike Beltran was the sole lawmaker that spoke against the agreement.