On the table: Florida lawmakers debate gaming compact between DeSantis, Seminole Tribe

Cards on the table as Florida gambling special session underway
Cards on the table as Florida gambling special session underway

Florida lawmakers began a special session Monday in Tallahassee after Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida signed off on a gambling compact last month.

Now it’s up to Florida lawmakers to make it official.

If approved, the compact would mean a sweeping expansion of gambling at Seminole casinos, but not all South Florida leaders are in support of the agreement.

“We don’t want it here,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said. “We don’t want it in Miami. We don’t want it in South Florida.”

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood could add three new casinos and the tribe would get the right to add roulette and craps to their menu of games.

Mobile sports betting is probably the most noteworthy in the compact, letting Floridians use their cellphones to place bets from any location.

Opponents say that would be unconstitutional.

“The compact relies on the illusion that if you are on your cellphone and placing a bet in Orlando or in downtown Miami — that because the computer server that is receiving that bet is on tribal lands that therefore that gambling is taking place on tribal lands,” said John Sowinski, a communications consultant.

Florida lawmakers to consider DeSantis, Seminole Tribe gambling compact
Florida lawmakers to consider DeSantis, Seminole Tribe gambling compact

Lawmakers are framing the potential gaming rules in the next few days, with the state House and Senate likely to vote later in the week.

The weeklong session has already claimed a casualty — there will be no possibility of taking casino games online or on mobile.

The big bet for the tribe, however, is whether they can claim exclusive control of what would be newly legal online mobile sports betting.

The stumbling block to mobile sports betting and adding new games of chance at Seminole casinos (such as roulette and craps) is Amendment 3 from the 2018 election, which bans expanding gambling in the state without voter approval.

“Since when do the voters’ votes not count? Since when do they not matter? They do matter and we voted no,” said Stephen Sawitz, of Joe’s Stone Crab.

The Seminoles are lobbying for the compact, which would enrich their coffers and the state’s. The tribe would pay at least $500 million a year.

“The tribe takes the risk,” said Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming. “It is still committed to pay to the state of Florida for 30 years all of its revenue share.”

Opponents see it differently.

“When they talk about this $500 million or this or that, that’s money offset that’s already in our economy,” Sowinski said.

The tribe preceded this week’s session promoting its ties to Florida, knowing opposition comes from neighboring parimutuels like Gulfstream Park and tourists cities like Miami Beach, afraid that the gambling expansion wont stop with this special session.

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