Florida legislature approves gambling pact, which includes sports betting, but it isn’t a done deal yet

FILE- In this Jan. 19, 2021, file pot, The Guitar Hotel at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood is illuminated at night in Hollywood, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reached an agreement with the state's Seminole Tribe on Friday, April 23, 2021, that would greatly expand gambling in the state, including the introduction of legalized sports wagering. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Florida lawmakers approved a gambling agreement signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe in April.

The bill, approved Wednesday, allows the Seminole tribe to add roulette and craps to its casinos, including the popular Hard Rock facilities in Hollywood and also Tampa. In return, the state would be expected to receive an estimated $20 billion over the 30-year compact.

Now the approval needs to go through the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling operations to make official.

If that happens the tribe can begin sports betting Oct. 15. and operate sports wagering at horse tracks, jai-alai frontons and former dog tracks for a share of the income. Online sports betting operated by the tribe also would be allowed.

The Legislature held a special session to consider the agreement a little more than two weeks after ending its annual 60-day session.

Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said in a statement on behalf of the 4,300 members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida regarding Wednesday’s ratification.

“... It is a historic and mutually-beneficial partnership between the State and Seminole Tribe that will positively impact all Floridians for decades to come. . . ,” said Osceola.

Florida’s original compact with the Seminoles gave the tribe exclusive rights to slot machines and blackjack. In exchange, the tribe paid the state several billion dollars — which all but dried up after it expired in 2015 .

“The breakdown of the compact has denied the state of Florida any revenue derived from the Seminole Tribe’s ongoing gaming operations,” DeSantis said. “This changes today. With this new compact, the state will now see a large stream of reoccurring revenue to the tune of billions of dollars over the next few years. The deal will also create over 2,000 jobs,” according to the DeSantis.

The new compact would guarantee the state $2.5 billion over the next five years and an estimated $6 billion by 2030.

“Today, the storied relationship between Florida and the Seminole Tribe was strengthened thanks to a historic compact negotiated between Governor DeSantis and the Tribe. The additional revenues of this compact will prove essential as we continue investing in Florida’s future, including in our education, transportation, infrastructure, and environment. I applaud our Governor for renewing this critical partnership for the benefit of our state,” said Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez.

Although Osceola stated that “all the people of Florida are winners, thanks to legislative approval of the Gaming Compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida,” not everyone agrees.

“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.”

Opponents also say that the mobile sports betting component of the pact is 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, president of the group www.nocasinos.org.

Sowinski released the following statement Wednesday after the compact was ratified.

“This fight is just beginning. We are committed to ensuring that the will of the people, who voted by a remarkable 72 landslide to give Florida voters the exclusive right to authorize casino gambling in our state, will be respected.”

About the Authors:

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local 10.com. She has a bachelor's degree from Emerson College, Boston, and a master's degree from SUNY-Empire State.