After more debate than was originally thought, legislators in the state of Florida have ratified the compact between the state and the Seminole Indian tribe of the state. The ratification alone does not mean that the 30-year deal is effective immediately, however. There are still several challenges that loom ahead, including federal approval and an expected legal challenge to the compact.
More Discussion, But No Serious Opposition
Monday saw debate in the Florida House and Senate, and there was actual discussion over the subject. Enough Republican votes in the House were against the compact because of the provision for renegotiation of the deal for expansion of gaming (AKA online casinos and online poker) within three years. To sway those votes, Governor Ron DeSantis and Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola decided to simply remove that part of the compact from the deal. This means that there will be no discussion about online casinos or online poker anytime soon.
That seemed to be enough to bring the skittish Republican voters into the agreement. On Tuesday, the Florida Senate voted by a 38-1 margin to ratify the compact. A day later, the Florida House passed the compact, 97-17, to put the approval of the state legislature on the agreement that DeSantis and Osceola signed back at the end of April.
The new agreement would see the Seminoles pay out a minimum of $500 million per year straight to the state coffers. That fee would go up, naturally, if the revenues of the Seminole casino operations exceed certain levels. The Seminoles would get certain concessions with the new compact also.
Previously restricted from such activities, the Seminoles would be able to offer table games in their casinos, such as craps, roulette and other games. They would also earn the ability to expand their casino operations with three new casinos. But the most contentious point of the compact could be the thing that shoots it down.
Could Mobile Sports Betting Shut Compact Down?
One of the sweetest parts of the deal for the Seminoles was the ability to offer mobile sports betting to Florida residents. Servers that would administer the activity would be housed on tribal grounds, but the pari-mutuel tracks and poker rooms throughout the state would be able to offer action – as long as they route their betting through the Seminole servers. This seemingly would violate the Florida constitution.
In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 3, which expressly stated that any expansion of gaming would have to be approved by a referendum vote of 60% of Florida voters. The original thought of that plan was to remove the decision making on the subject from the elected officials in Tallahassee and put it in the hands of the voters. Introducing mobile sports betting would seemingly violate that amendment.
During debate on the issue, State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith pointed out this very fact. “We are told it doesn’t violate Amendment 3 because it’s not an expansion of gambling because, of course, sports betting on our phone apps is happening through servers on tribal lands. Under that argument, can I open a slot machine operation in Orlando, so long as the physical slots are internet based and using servers on tribal lands? That wouldn’t be an expansion of gambling? Come on, y’all. We know better than this,” Smith said.
Even some of the supporters of the compact did not see it surviving the scrutiny of the courts. State Representative Randy Fine stated that “this is a good deal for the state,” but he also added that “I don’t think it’s going to survive” a court challenge. State Representative Sam Garrison also saw issues, stating, “It is an open question and it’s going to have to be litigated because it is not a black-and-white answer.” Even the Speaker of the House, Chris Sprowls, stated that the compact “wasn’t a sure bet” because of the inclusion of sports betting.
It will be some time before the case is decided. The U. S. Department of the Interior, who oversees tribal gaming, has 45 days to decide whether to accept the new compact or not. Then the legal challenges will begin, which means that sports betting will not be occurring anytime soon in the Sunshine State.