FL Gov. & Seminole Tribe’s New Gaming Compact Could Make Sports Betting Happen

Posted By Brant James on April 30, 2021

The bid to bring legal sports betting to Florida continues to be more difficult than catching a fly, but it did have a major milestone on April 23 when Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida negotiated a new gaming compact. This brings the potential for legal sports betting in Florida a little closer to reality.

The Florida bill as currently written would extend the Seminoles’ exclusivity on Florida gambling for 30 years in exchange for $500 million yearly revenue share payments. They would also be granted the long-sought addition of craps and roulette in their six Florida casinos.

The deal would reportedly be worth $2.5 billion to Florida in the first five years.

Perhaps the most important point of the whole deal – one that has been grist for gambling industry legal observers since it was announced in late April – is whether the Seminoles’ Hard Rock Digital will legally be allowed to serve as the state’s mobile sports betting hub. According to the compact, all sports betting would be done through Seminole sportsbooks, a so-called “approved management contractor” and in conjunction with pari-mutuel facilities, if the Tribe chose. Or it could just pay slightly more to the state for a complete monopoly on online sports betting in Florida.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that sets the framework for the compacts between tribes and states does not allow for Native American gambling operations to be held outside of their lands. The DeSantis deal calls for the Seminoles to in essence run the state’s mobile sports betting through a so-called “hub” on its property, with the language of the deal specifying that bets are placed where the servers are located. But legal precedent has smacked back this notion before.

Interior Department among host that must approve Florida deal

The State Legislature will hold a special session the week of May 17 to sort through details of a deal negotiated by DeSantis and Senate President Wilton Simpson, the Seminole Tribe and other stakeholders including pari-mutuel interests.

The Department of the Interior would ultimately have to sign off as with any compact, and scores of lengthy lawsuits are likely to follow, according to legal observers if tweaks are made or not.

This kind of setup has happened with other states before. Michigan tribes offer mobile gambling beyond their lands after agreeing to state regulation and taxation. Tribes in Arizona and Connecticut surrendered their exclusivity in exchange for concessions on games they could offer.

DeSantis is going to have to fight for it, one way or another. The group that successfully – it believes – curtailed gambling expansion in Florida with a constitutional amendment just three years ago has vowed to sue. That publicity campaign for that amendment was co-funded predominantly by the Seminoles and Walt Disney Corp., for their own specific reasons. Disney hasn’t weighed in on the latest developments.

It’s never easy in Florida. Or predictable. 

Photo by Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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