Online Sports Betting Coming To Florida Pending Legislative Approval

A new 30-year deal with the Seminole Tribe allows for sports betting
Online Sports Betting Coming To Florida

After months of contentious negotiations, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida agreed to a new 30-year gaming compact that, pending the state legislature’s approval, will bring online sports betting to the Sunshine State.

The deal, which was announced in a memorandum from Senate President Wilton Simpson to other members of the Senate, was short on details, but was clear in its message: The newly signed compact with the Seminole tribe will include online sports betting in partnership with the pari-mutuel industry.

In his memo to senators, Simpson noted time is not on the side of the legislature.

“In order to take effect, the new Compact will need to be ratified by the Legislature,” Simpson wrote. “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 in a Special Session the week of May 17, 2021. It is my expectation that the 2021 Regular Session will conclude as scheduled on Friday, April 30.”

In addition to the mobile sports betting deal, the Seminole tribe will also be allowed to introduce craps and roulette games at its casinos, build additional facilities at its Hollywood property, and enjoy “enhanced revenue sharing brackets.”

Additionally, according to an Orlando Sentinel report, the pari-mutuel industry will be allowed to introduce card games on their properties.

Big win for the Tribe

Other highlights of the deal identified by the Sentinel report include the Seminole Tribe being allowed to build three new casinos on tribal land, including a second one in Hollywood where it currently operates the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

While sports betting was at the forefront of the current round of negotiations, the fact was, and remains, that the Seminole Tribe truly held most, if not all, of the negotiating cards.

In 2019, the tribe dropped out of a revenue-sharing agreement with the state over concerns that “designated player” card games — think, for instance, three-card poker, but played heads-up against another player instead of against the house — at pari-mutuel sites in the state broke the exclusivity terms of their agreement.

What brought the tribe back to the table — and what is allowing it to concede some of the sports betting market (and drop the complaint against card games in the pari-mutuel world) — is clearly the ability to offer roulette, craps, and other “Vegas”-style casino offerings. As of now, the tribe was only allowed to offer card games. 

All in all, it’s a major win for the Seminoles, as the sports betting part of the deal will run through them, according to the Miami Herald report. The tribe, in short, will be getting a cut of every single sports bet made in the state, no matter if it’s being made on someone’s phone or at one of Florida’s racetracks.

Big win for DeSantis

All told, the deal is expected to add anywhere from $500 million to a billion dollars in annual revenue.

The legislature won’t be taking up discussion of the deal until the mid-May special session, which suits at least one legislator just fine.

“I have felt very strongly that that is not something that we were willing to take up during the course of the regular session,” Chris Sprowls, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, told the Miami Herald. “As we have a lot of policy for the people of Florida … and continues to be our focus over the next several days.”

For DeSantis, this deal culminates years of back and forth with the Seminole Tribe. By successfully bringing sports betting into the light, it also serves as a reminder of the governor’s athletic background at Yale, where he was a four-year starter on the baseball team.

“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 said in a statement. “Our agreement establishes the framework to generate billions in new revenue and untold waves of positive economic impact. I would like to thank Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr., Senate President Wilton Simpson, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls for their collective commitment to modernizing the gaming industry in the state of Florida and setting the bar for the rest of the nation.”

And while it would appear that the Republican-controlled legislature has an easy path to get this bill across the finish line, there will be numerous hurdles, not the least of which involves the No Casinos anti-gambling group. It contends Florida voters, not the state’s lawmakers, are the only ones with authority to expand gambling laws

Additionally, the deal would have to meet approval by the U.S. Department of Interior after being ratified by the legislature.

Image by Shutterstock


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