Florida gambling deal with Seminole Tribe faces legal questions

State, Seminole Tribe of Florida reached deal April 23

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood, Florida.
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood, Florida. (Hard Rock Hotel & Casino)

TALLAHASSEE – After years of legal wrangling and failed attempts to seal a deal, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have nailed down a gambling agreement to bring sports betting to the state and rake at least $2.5 billion into state coffers within five years.

But the complicated 30-year pact faces significant hurdles before Florida residents and visitors legally could whip out their phones and place bets on their favorite sports teams.

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State lawmakers would have to sign off on the agreement, which is known as a “compact.” The U.S. Department of the Interior also has to authorize the deal.

In addition, experts are divided about whether the Florida Constitution requires statewide voter approval to legalize sports betting. Other lawyers believe that the proposed compact with the Seminoles could run afoul of federal law.

“Florida is a legal landmine,” Hallandale Beach lawyer Daniel Wallach, who specializes in sports betting, said in an interview.

Wallach warned that the compact could result in a legal quagmire because of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which governs what activities tribes can engage in.

Under the agreement inked April 23 by DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr., the Seminoles would serve as a hub for online sports betting, with pari-mutuel operators contracting with the tribe. Pari-mutuels would get to keep 60 percent of sports-betting revenue, with 40 percent going to the Seminoles. The tribe would pay the state up to 14 percent on the net winnings.

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