Florida House approves gambling bill with Seminole Tribe but legal challenges expected

30-year deal allows tribe to operate sports betting

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida House on Wednesday gave final approval to a gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that would include allowing sports betting in the state.

The House, during the third day of a special legislative session, voted 97-17 to pass the bill. The Senate voted 39-1 on Tuesday to approve it.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida announced the 30-year deal, known as a compact, last month. The state will receive at least $2.5 billion over the next five years and an estimated $20 billion over the course of the 30-year deal. The tribe would operate sports betting and would receive other benefits, including being able to offer craps and roulette at its casinos.

“It is a good deal for our state,” said Republican Rep. Randy Fine. “Could we get a better deal? I don’t know. I’d like to think I could, sure. But I don’t have that choice. I have this deal and a closer path to a million and half dollars a day.”

Democrats opposing the bill argued that the compact violates a state constitutional amendment that prevents the expansion of gambling without voter approval and questioned whether it will survive a legal challenge. They also said the state could have made a better deal.

“We are told that this compact doesn’t violate Amendment 3. Why? We’re told it doesn’t violate Amendment 3 because it’s not an expansion of gambling because of course sports betting on our phone app is happening through servers on tribal land. LOL,” Democrat Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said.

If approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling operations, the Seminoles can begin sports betting Oct. 15 and operate sports wagering at horse tracks, jai alai frontons and former dog tracks for a share of the income. Online sports betting operated by the tribe also will be allowed.

Florida’s original compact with the Seminoles gave the tribe exclusive rights to slot machines and blackjack. In exchange, the tribe paid the state several billion dollars — but is no longer obligated to make payments to the state.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. released a statement after the vote, thanking Florida legislators and the governor.

“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. 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 statement read. “The Seminole Tribe wants to express our sincere thanks to Governor Ron DeSantis, Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, as well as to minority leaders Sen. Lauren Book and Rep. Evan Jenne, who have all worked hard to make this opportunity a reality. I must also thank our entire team for such a meaningful outcome and specifically Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen for leading the negotiations.”

The compact is expected to face a legal challenge because of the sports betting provision.

“You’re going to be able to make bets on your mobile device on sports. You can’t do that today. Whether that’s a legal expansion that violates Amendment 3, that is for a judge to decide,” Fine said.

The organization No Casinos released a statement on Wednesday:

“This fight is just beginning. We are committed to ensuring that the will of the people, who voted by a remarkable 72 landslide to give Florida voters the exclusive right to authorize casino gambling in our state, will be respected.”

Gov. DeSantis released a statement:

“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. 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. The deal will also create over 2,000 jobs. I want to thank the Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr., Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, and the entire Florida Legislature for getting this done for our great state.”


About the Authors:

Amanda Castro, a proud UCF alum, joined the News 6 team in November 2015 and was promoted to weekend morning anchor in April 2016. Go Knights!