Florida Legislative Approval of Gaming Compact Expected Wednesday
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images. Pictured: Capitol building in Tallahassee.
The Florida Senate approved a sweeping compact with the state’s Seminole Tribe Tuesday, clearing one more legislative hurdle that would allow online and retail sports betting among other gaming expansions.
After more than an hour of floor debate, the Senate approved legislation enacting the deal 38-1. A House committee approved identical legislation later that afternoon.
A final vote is expected on the House floor Wednesday. Once approved by the House, the compact goes to the federal Department of the Interior for ratification.
The compact faces possible jeopardy at the federal and state level, but lawmakers Tuesday focused on first passing the enacting legislation out of the statehouse.
The deal with the Seminoles was negotiated by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson, all but assuring lawmakers in the GOP-controlled legislature would sign off on the deal. Lawmakers could not amend the compact during a special legislative session that began Monday but were able to express concerns before a yes-no vote.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican who sponsored separate gaming legislation during this year’s regular session, was the lone vote against the proposal.
“To create a statewide monopoly for one entity for money, it isn’t the right thing to do,” Brandes said before Tuesday’s floor vote. “It doesn’t confirm with our Republican values that we are for free markets and open competition in the state of Florida.”
Democrats including Sen. Jason Pizzo also expressed concerns before ultimately voting yes. Speaking on the floor, Pizzo wondered if the state could have received a better deal.
“I think the current posture that we’re in right now shows that one side is very good at negotiating and the other has never made a payroll or signed the front of a paycheck,” Pizzo said.
Already the dominant force in state gaming, the deal grants exclusive control over online and retail sports betting to the Seminoles, who can also now offer craps and roulette at their seven state casinos and also open new facilities on their reservation in South Florida. The 30-year compact guarantees the state $2.5 billion in revenues in its first five years and $500 million or more annually through the deal’s duration.
The state and Seminoles are technically still under a prior compact that, like the new agreement, gave the tribe exclusive gaming rights in exchange for a portion of revenues. The tribe suspended payments in 2019 because some commercial gaming facilities offered certain card games they said violated the exclusivity agreement.
With no money coming to the state form the Seminoles and the opportunity before them to reinstate hundreds of millions in annual payments, multiple lawmakers Tuesday said they felt compelled to accept the compact.
“Good deal or bad deal, it’s the deal we have on the table,” said Democratic Sen Annette Taddeo. “And I can’t in good consciousness turn down the money.”
Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, who was tasked with shepherding the compact enaction legislation through the Senate, commended the deal on the floor Tuesday, saying the new compact would benefit the tribe and state.
“I believe this is a good deal,” Hutson said. “I believe it’s a great deal.”
Tuesday’s compact debate was the centerpiece of a whirlwind special session that’s expected to conclude Wednesday. Lawmakers introduced more than a dozen gaming bills, some of which had bounced around the statehouse for years without any significant action:
- A bill that would “decouple” cardrooms affiliated with certain pari-mutuel venues also passed. The legislation, which allows eligible facilities to offer more lucrative card games without having to conduct racing or jai alai events, is expected to pass Wednesday. Notably, the compact legislation will allow many of these same cardrooms to continue offering the games that caused the Seminoles to suspend payments in 2019.
- An additional bill that would restructure the state’s gaming regulatory body also advanced out of the Senate as well a House committee. It too is expected to pass out of the full legislature Wednesday.
- Daily fantasy sports regulatory legislation opposed by DraftKings and FanDuel was withdrawn from consideration Tuesday. Proponents said they intended to address the issue again during the regulatory legislative session next year.