PlayUSA’s ‘On The Record:’ FL Consultant Talks Tribal Affairs & College Football

Posted on October 25, 2019 - Last Updated on November 8, 2019

In the spirit of Halloween, why not embark on a tale of horrors currently happening in the great state of Florida.

No, the Sunshine State is not reverting to puritan days and taking away all forms of gambling — that would be ludicrous. In-fact, legislative officials are in continued talks with the Seminole Tribe in efforts to bring sports betting to Florida.

The real horror is taking place at Doak Campbell Stadium, home of the Florida State Seminoles (3-4), where their former dynasty lies in ruin.

As a kid growing up in the ’90s when college football rolled around, all I watched was FSU football. Every year I witnessed a string of top-five finishes and a level of dominance unlike any other. Call me spoiled, but I cherished every season.

Flashforward to the retirement of legendary head coach Bobby Bowden, the rise of his successor Jimbo Fisher, and the return to glory during the 2013-14 college football season. That year, FSU (13-0) defeated Auburn University (12-1), 34 to 31, capping off an undefeated season and claiming the National Championship in the final year of the BCS era. Then the ship began to sink.

I never attended Florida State University. That’s why I reached out to Tallahassee lobbyist, consultant, and FSU alumni Nick Iarossi to help me understand what the hell is going on with Nole Nation.

Checking the pulse of college football in Tallahassee

Iarossi, a consultant with Capital City Consulting, has been a resident of Florida since 1994 and attends Seminole football games as frequently as possible.

Give me a few thoughts on the season thus far.
Wow. Well, ugh, Coach (Willie) Taggert was left with a decimated team and offensive line from Jimbo Fisher. I think what’s frustrating for the fanbase is, people aren’t seeing a steady positive progression week after week. It’s kind of like one step forward, two steps back.

FSU is five years removed from a national title. Fisher, a former SEC coach, brought in this winning culture, he leaves, how does everything fall apart so quickly?
Well, when you look at other schools, the University of Florida had the same downswing when they lost their coach. Miami has seen the same thing, these cycles come and go, and it depends heavily on your recruiting, so that’s expected. What’s not expected is just the inability to fix mistakes and improve week to week.

What’s the atmosphere been like at the games you have attended this season?
It has been flatter than usual, and attendance has been down. Look, I get it, these are entertainment dollars that people are spending, and if they don’t like the product they are seeing, they are going to spend their dollars elsewhere.

FSU had a 36-year bowl streak, the longest in college football history, snapped last year. Do they make it back to a bowl game this year?
Oh man — a lot of that will depend on if we beat Syracuse this weekend. That’s a must-win game. We have Miami after that, which you know rivalry games can go either way, so Syracuse is a must-win. We have Alabama State at the end of the season, which we should win. So we basically have to win out. If we lose this weekend, it’s going to make it challenging to make a bowl game.

Any final thoughts?
We will right the ship. I hope it’s with Taggert because I have met him — he is a super great guy. Incredibly likable, and he loves FSU, so its good to have a coach that wants to be here. We are all really rooting for him, but so far we have been disappointed.

You go to FSU to win National Titles, not go 6-6.
Right, you have to actually win.

An analysis of gambling affairs in Florida

Iarossi has been plugged into the Florida gambling network for over a decade, and I’ve spoken with him about several topics ranging from sports betting, tribal gaming, and constitutional amendments.

As a gaming writer and reporter, I’ve noticed that one of the most frequently asked questions gambling enthusiasts in Florida have been asking is: When will sports betting be legalized in Florida?

I’ll try and break down this complex question as easy as possible.

I say it’s complicated because there are several moving parts. Not only does the state legislature have to deal with tribal gaming interests, but there must also be state-wide approval for any form of gambling expansion.

Residents acquired this power last year through the passage of Amendment 3, also known as The Gambling Control Act. Not surprising, this amendment was backed by the Seminole Tribe and Walt Disney. The amendment ensures no gambling will be added to the state without first going through the people of Florida.

The one exemption being any form of tribal gambling does not have to go before the residents for a vote.

“I don’t think anything will be done independently of a (state-wide) gambling bill that includes the tribes and a compact,” Iarossi said.

The Seminole Tribe stopped making payments to the state after it claimed designated poker player games violated the exclusivity clause in its compact. Those payments amount to $25 million a month or $300 million a year, which is now missing from state coffers.

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A complex course of action for Florida sports betting

According to Iarossi, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is currently formulating a way to engage the tribe and come up with a plan.

“Sports betting would be tied up in those negotiations if it were to happen, and I don’t anticipate the legislature trying to do sports betting on its own,” he said.

Iarossie provided the two following scenarios for legal Florida sports betting:

Best case scenario

The tribe becomes reasonable on a deal where they pay more because the governor and the House would like them to pay more, probably in the $700-800 million range. In exchange, they will continue to have an exclusivity agreement for class-3 casino games across the state. They would be given, in addition to the slots and blackjack, craps and roulette at all seven of their facilities. Finally, they would be able to operate sports betting with para-mutuals as outlets and get daily fantasy sports.

Worst case scenario

I think the governor and the legislature are considering some alternatives to not having a compact with the tribe and making up that lost revenue. Those alternatives could include additional gaming in the state of Florida at the para-mutuals or elsewhere. It would potentially require a constitutional referendum. Other states have commercial casinos and tribal casinos, much like New York, so I think it would look much like that. Except our process would be a bit more cumbersome in that we would require a state-wide vote.

Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee for the start of the 2020 legislative session on Jan. 7 and have till the first week of March to put a plan into action.

“Anything they do needs to be done during that time,” Iarossi said. “If the tribe is not willing to budge, then the state will have to look at alternative methods.”

Nicholaus Garcia Avatar
Written by
Nicholaus Garcia

Nick has had stints in Chicago, writing about local politics, and in Washington, D.C., covering the expanding gambling industry. Now back in Chicago, he continues to write about the emerging sports betting market with a focus on the Midwest. Originally from West Texas, he graduated from Texas Tech University and completed his master's degree in journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

View all posts by Nicholaus Garcia
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