TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – House and Senate leaders Wednesday set the stage for a special legislative session to consider a gambling deal that Gov. Ron DeSantis hammered out with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, issued a formal joint proclamation to bring lawmakers back to Tallahassee during the week of May 17. The 30-year gambling “compact,” announced April 23, includes allowing sports betting in the state.
“As you are aware, on April 23, 2021, Gov. DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida executed a historic new 30-year gaming compact that restores the state’s relationship with the tribe, preserves and offers new opportunities for Florida’s legacy pari-mutuel industry and provides substantial new revenues for the state of Florida,” Simpson said in a memo to senators Wednesday.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is slated May 17 to take up the deal, with the issue going to the Senate floor the following day, according to a schedule released by the Senate.
Sprowls said in a memo that he will appoint one or more select committees to consider the wide-ranging compact, with time set aside for committees to meet on May 17 and May 18. The proposal will go to the House floor on May 19, according to a schedule released by the House.
With the complexity --- and potential high financial stakes --- of the compact, the House also plans to hold online courses next week for lawmakers to better understand a series of gambling issues.
Under the compact, the state is expected to receive at least $2.5 billion within five years, with the tribe serving as a hub for sports betting and also getting benefits such as being able to add three facilities to its Hard Rock casino in Hollywood.
“We truly believe that this is the best deal for everybody. It’s not in favor of the tribe or the state. It’s in favor of both parties, because this is a long-lasting team,” tribe Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said when the compact was signed.
But while the deal was the result of lengthy negotiations between DeSantis and the tribe, it requires approval from the Legislature. Leaders said last month that a special session would be held the week of May 17, with the formal proclamation Wednesday nailing down details.
The proclamation makes clear that lawmakers will also wade into issues that affect the pari-mutuel industry, including establishing a state gaming commission.
Also, lawmakers could allow many horse tracks and jai alai frontons to stop holding live races and performances while continuing to operate card rooms and, in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, slot machines. Such “decoupling” would end a longstanding requirement that races and jai alai performances be held.
Legislative leaders decided to deal with the gambling issues during a special session instead of trying to cram them into this year’s 60-day regular session, which ended last week.
With the Capitol slated to reopen to the public Friday after being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sprowls’ memo Wednesday said COVID-19 procedures used for lawmakers, staff members and reporters during the regular session will not continue during the special session.
“The mask, testing and social distancing protocols that were in place for regular session will not be applied in special session,” the memo said.