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Florida’s New Tribal Gambling Deal Clears Senate, House Next

The Florida Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the state’s new compact with the Seminole Tribe, with Sen. Jeff Brandes casting the single no vote.

State lawmakers convened for a special three-day session to review the provisions of the 75-page compact and vote on it. House legislators are expected to sign off the agreement on Wednesday. It must also secure approval from the US Department of the Interior.

The Seminoles and Gov. DeSantis reached the 30-year deal in late April. Under its provisions, the tribe will be able to add craps and roulette tables at its casinos and provide online sports betting services across the state via servers located on reservation land.

In exchange, the tribe will have to pay the state at least $500 million during the first five years. The agreement was signed more than a decade after an original compact between then-Gov. Charlie Crist and tribal officials granted the Seminoles the exclusive rights over blackjack.

The tribe had to pay at least $350 million to the state under that original agreement. However, it halted payments in 2019 following a prolonged legal dispute stemming from the so-called designated player games that many pari-mutuels around the state have been offering for years.

The tribe argued that these games violated the terms of the original compact.

Designated Player Games to Stay

The controversial games have been a sticking point in negotiations over a new compact. However, under the recent deal, pari-mutuels would be able to continue to offer these as long as they maintain their current footprint and do not attempt to expand them.

The most important part of the new three-decade agreement makes the Seminoles the state’s hub for retail and digital sports betting. The tribe will be able to run physical sportsbooks at its properties and offer online wagering products via its new Hard Rock Digital division.

In addition, the state’s pari-mutuels will be able to contract with the tribe and offer sports betting. They will keep 60% of their betting revenue and share the rest with the tribe. As for the Seminoles, in addition to the mandatory $500 million annual payments over the first five years, they would also pay to the state 10% of the wagering revenue generated by pari-mutuels and 13.75% of its own sports betting revenue.

The authorization of sports betting has attracted staunch opposition from some lawmakers and parties traditionally opposing any form of gambling expansion. These argue that the legalization of the practice is subject to Amendment 3, a 2018 constitutional amendment that requires a statewide vote on any proposal for expanded gambling.

The tribe and supporters of the compact maintain that a referendum is not needed because all sports betting servers will be located on tribal land and will therefore be regulated under federal law and not under state one.

It should be noted that ironically, the Seminoles plowed millions of dollars into promoting Amendment 3 before it appeared on the November ballot three years ago.

Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen urged House lawmakers to support the latest compact, saying the state would receive more than $20 billion over the next three decades. He acknowledged that the deal faces massive opposition and heavy scrutiny by the federal government and by opponents, but pointed out that the Seminoles would still have to pay at least $450 million a year if the compact is ratified without sports betting.

Source: Gambling deal teed up for final approval, Fox 35 Orlando, May 18, 2021

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