Florida Compact Signed, Clearing Way for Sports Betting

Florida Compact Signed, Clearing Way for Sports Betting
© USA Today

Sports betting is one step closer in Florida, and it’s a big step.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday signed a new compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that will determine the long-term future of gaming in the state. It could bring legalized sports betting to Florida and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

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The signed deal now heads to the Florida legislature, where lawmakers will hold a special session the week of May 17.

“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.”

Florida, with about 21.5 million people, would be the most-populous state with legal sports betting. New York, with a population of about 19.45 million, is in the process of beginning work to launch its online sports betting market. California and Texas have higher populations, but are further off in legalizing sports betting.

“Today, after months of negotiations, Gov. DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida executed a historic new 30-year gaming compact that restores the state’s relationship with the tribe, preserves and offers new opportunities for Florida’s legacy pari-mutuel industry and provides substantial new revenues for the state of Florida,” Senate President Wilton Simpson wrote in a memo sent to state senators.

Simpson said in the memo that the compact creates a $2.5 billion revenue-sharing guarantee in the first five years, with $6 billion in new revenues for Florida through 2030.

”By comprehensively addressing issues raised for almost a decade, the 2021 Compact will maximize revenues for the state and provide new opportunities for both the Tribe and Florida’s pari-mutuel businesses by updating Florida law to better reflect the current gaming climate,” Simpson said.

In mid-March it became clear that negotiations between DeSantis and the tribe were making progress. On Thursday, the deal was closer than ever and reports suggested it would be signed Friday.

Some Details of the Compact

Details of the compact include the new 30-year term; craps and roulette at Seminole casinos; additional facilities on the tribe’s Hollywood reservation; enhanced revenue sharing brackets and statewide online sports betting in partnership with the pari-mutuels.

According to the compact, betting will be allowed on all professional, college and Olympic sports, but prop bets on college sports will not be allowed. The legal age would be 21.

Under the agreement, the Seminoles would have exclusive control of sports betting, which the tribe could offer at its own casinos, as well as through pari-mutuels and its platform known as Hard Rock Digital, according to Florida Politics.

It is unclear how many online sportsbooks will be allowed in the market and what the tax rate on sports betting revenue would be. The state’s 35 pari-mutuel operators could potentially run mobile sports betting sites, but they would have to share 55% of the revenue with the tribe, according to the Miami Herald. Servers would need to be located on tribal lands. Retail sportsbooks would also be permitted at other sporting venues, including professional sports stadiums and arenas.

There will likely be legal challenges over the compact because a 2018 constitutional amendment in Florida requires statewide voter approval to expand gambling.

The deal is expected to generate at least $500 million a year in revenues from the tribe, well over the $350 million or so a year that the Seminole Tribe had been paying the state under the old deal. Those fell into disarray over disagreements with then-Gov. Rick Scott on what games could be offered at state pari-mutuel facilities and the tribe stopped making payments.

What’s Next in Florida?

Getting to the finish line will involve jumping numerous political and legal hurdles. The Republican-led legislature needs to approve the deal in the special session. Then the federal government’s U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs needs to approve it and post it to the Federal Register.

Simpson said previously announced legislation to establish a Gaming Control Commission and to decouple greyhound, jai alai, harness, and quarter horse racing would be reintroduced during the special session, “so that we can discuss and address the future of gaming in our state in a more comprehensive manner at that time.”

“Revenues contemplated in the new compact were not included in allocations for the development of the 2021-22 General Appropriations Act. In my view, if the compact is ratified by the legislature during the special session, these revenues would be used to further buffer our state reserves in the coming year,” Simpson said in the memo.

The current 2021 legislative session ends April 30.

“Gaming, in one form or another, is a voter-approved legacy industry in our state that has contributed billions of dollars to our economy for education, health care and infrastructure, while providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to Floridians over the course of nearly 100 years,” Simpson said. “In my view, we have a responsibility to update our laws to reflect current realities of this heavily-regulated industry and to ensure those laws are properly enforced.”

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