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Florida Legislature ratifies gaming compact

The Florida House of Representatives ratifies the compact agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe by a vote of 97-17 on May 19, 2021, in Tallahassee. The vote came one day after the Senate ratified the compact. (Image via Florida Channel)

Sports betting just gained a foothold in Florida and, pending federal approval, the Seminole Tribe will be its exclusive operator.

The Florida Legislature overwhelmingly approved the gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state. It passed the Senate on a 38 to 1 vote May 18. The House of Representatives passed it on a 97 to 17 vote May 19 – the last day of a special session convened to consider the 30-year compact which was signed April 23 by Seminole Tribe Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The compact is now expected to be signed into law by the governor.

The compact guarantees the tribe will send the state a revenue share of at least $2.5 billion over the first five years or $500 million per year, and about $20 billion over the 30-year duration.

The deal must be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is led by Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), the first Native American cabinet secretary in U.S history. Interior has jurisdiction over Indian gaming through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).  The Secretary of the Interior has 45 days from receipt of the compact to approve or disapprove it. If Interior takes no action within that time, the compact is considered to be approved to the extent it complies with IGRA.

If final approvals are met, sports betting would begin no earlier than Oct. 15 at the tribe’s casinos. The tribe would license sports betting to pari-mutuels statewide and receive 40% of its revenue. Additionally, craps and roulette will be allowed at the tribe’s casinos.

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

“The breakdown of the 2010 compact has denied the state of Florida any revenue derived from the Seminole Tribe’s ongoing gaming operations – including what is the most profitable casino in the United States, located in Hillsborough County. This changes today,” DeSantis said in a statement. “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.”

During the three-day special session, debate on the merits of the bill to ratify the compact went through various committees in the House and Senate. After a logjam on the first day, the compact was amended to remove a clause which would have allowed the tribe, after three years, to negotiate for additional online and mobile games.

In closing the bill prior to the vote, Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Clay, said, “I’ve rarely found an agreement where both sides get what they want. Traditionally, if nobody loves it but everybody can live with it, that’s an agreement worth moving forward with. Thanks to the amendment brought by the speaker and the governor and the tribe working together, I’m comfortable to encourage all my colleagues that this is an agreement we can live with and we should ratify it.”

Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and Chairman of Hard Rock International, addresses a House committee May 17, 2021, in Tallahassee. (Image via Florida Channel)

Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and Chairman of Hard Rock International, and attorney Joe Webster, outside counsel for the tribe, represented the tribe before committees in both chambers.

“We are here because the tribe sincerely wants to rekindle, restart the relationship that it commenced with the state of Florida in a compact environment back in 2007 and the most recent compact in 2010,” Allen told a House committee.

Sports betting will be implemented through a “hub and spoke” model in which the tribe is the hub and the pari-mutuels are the spokes. The pari-mutuals must go through the hub to offer sports betting at their facilities.

Allen told the House Select Committee on Gaming that the tribe is prepared to enter into agreements for sports betting with pari-mutuals, per compact requirements.

“When the tribe gives a $2.5 billion guarantee to the state that these funds will be paid in the first five years, no matter what, that is something the state can truly take to the bank,” Allen said. “Ten years ago we offered a billion dollar guarantee. We not only met that guarantee, we exceeded it.”

The tribe’s relationship with the state earned praise from Rep. Ralph Massulo, R-Citrus and Hernando.

“We look at the parties involved and I believe if we look at the past and how the tribe has treated the state, they have been extremely integrous; they have been extremely generous to the state,” Massulo said on the floor.

Massulo said the compact will bring more than 2,000 jobs to the state.

Prior to the vote in the House, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard, chairman of the House Select Committee on Gaming, complimented the tribe.

“The Seminole Tribe worked hard on this. They had nine more years they could have paid us nothing; I thank them for that,” Fine said to his colleagues. “This could be the most consequential vote you will make. This is a good deal for our state. In the casino business, the house always wins. I think if we pass this today, not only will the house win, but the people of Florida will win as well.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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