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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the details today of a years-long effort to bring sports betting to the Sunshine State

“This historic compact expands economic opportunity, tourism, and recreation, and bolsters the fiscal success of our state in one fell swoop for the benefit of all Floridians and Seminoles alike,” DeSantis (R) said in a statement Friday afternoon.

The highlights, according to the Miami Herald,  include:

  • Legal sports betting on professional, collegiate, and Olympic sports;
  • Tribal payments to the state annually for the next 30 years of at least $500 million;
  • All sports betting is through the tribe;
  • Professional sports teams would not take part in the betting process or receive profits;
  • Existing race tracks can begin offering their own card games;
  • Term of compact is 30 years;

The agreement was met with almost unanimous praise. 

“For years, there has been much ambiguity around the Compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Today, we thank @GovRonDeSantis for bringing that to a conclusion and for giving us the opportunity to address this key issue for our state.” House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) tweeted after the announcement was made. 

Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer (D) lauded the deal as well.

On behalf of the Senate Democratic Caucus, the news of a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe is very welcome. We hope that the expected influx of $2.5 billion over the next five years as a result of the compact will go a long way in advancing the priorities of the people of Florida, especially with respect to healthcare,” he said in a statement.

Concerns About Legality

‘No Casinos’ was a leading advocate in support of a 2018 statewide referendum that passed with more than 70% of the vote. That result stipulated Florida voters — and not the legislature or the governor — must approve additional gambling operations in the state. 

It immediately decried the compact released Friday and vowed to fight it in court. 

“The will of 71% of voters will not be ignored,” said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, in a statement

The 2018 referendum “includes sports gambling [and] the proposed compact violates the letter and the spirit of” the 2018 vote, he added. 

There is also a concern about whether the deal will pass the US Department of Interior muster. Since it involves tribal issues, it falls under that department’s jurisdiction as well. 

But Bob Jarvis, a gambling and Florida Constitutional expert at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida said he thinks the compact will prevail.

“It will definitely pass DOI review (the DOI tends to follow the lead of the involved tribe, and the Seminoles clearly want this deal). As for the referendum, because Art. X, sec. 30 of the Florida Constitution specifically exempts compacts, any lawsuit brought by the ‘No Casinos’ folks insisting that this has to go to a referendum will fail,” Jarvis said in an email to Gaming Today. 

Special Session

Senate President Wilton Simpson (R) has been working alongside DeSantis in recent months to make sure a deal came to fruition.  He said today a special session next month would be necessary to complete the task.

“While many of these provisions have been discussed for the last several years, I recognize that with a week left in the Regular Session, we are running short on time. Therefore, in an effort to provide the opportunity for a more thorough vetting of these important issues, Speaker Sprowls and I have agreed to convene a Special Session the week of May 17,” Simpson said in a letter to his Senate colleagues. 

The regular 2021 Florida legislative session is slated to end April 30. 

About the Author
Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary Shaffrey is a writer and contributor for Gaming Today with a focus on legislation and political content. Mary is an award-winning journalist who co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Government." She has spent more than 20 years covering government, both at the state and federal level. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and the Providence College Friars she feels cursed. Luckily she is a hockey mom too so her spirits aren't totally shot.

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