Florida Lawmakers Remove Online Casino Gaming from Compact
A proposal to allow online casino gaming in Florida was dropped Monday at the beginning of a special session to approve a broad expansion of gambling in the state, including sports betting.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced the move as the Florida House and Senate met to debate a series of proposed bills and a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to be voted on this week by the House and Senate.
If the gaming compact is approved, Florida, with 21.48 million people, would be the most-populous state to enact legal sports betting since a historic Supreme Court decision legalized it nationwide in 2018. New York has a population of about 19.45 million. California and Texas have more people, but are not close to legalizing sports betting.
Legal sports betting in Florida would begin no earlier than Oct. 15, Sprowls added while speaking on the House floor.
The move to drop online casino gaming was agreed to by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who negotiated the April 23 compact.
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“In my discussions with our members, I realized many shared the same concern as I — that some language in the compact could be construed to lead to the backdoor expansion of online gaming. Even the mere possibility of this was unacceptable,” Sprowls said in a release, adding the compact was amended to “remove any and all references to statewide online casino gambling.”
Any gambling deal between the Seminole Tribe and the state must also be approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), which is an independent federal agency, and the regulatory structure for Indian gaming in the U.S., before it can go into effect. The deal is automatically enacted if the NIGC does not reject it within 45 days.
Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Tribe Gaming, said during the hearings Monday that if mobile sports betting is not allowed by the federal government in the compact, retail sports betting could still be offered on tribal property.
Allen also said there has been interest from DraftKings, FanDuel and Barstool, and the tribe wants to work with those companies.
Expect State, Federal Lawsuits
Multiple lawsuits, too, are expected to be filed as soon as any deal is approved. In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 3, which prohibited the expansion of gambling in Florida without approval via referendum. A group called ”No Casinos” has been leading the effort to halt the growth of all forms of betting in the stare for several years. In recent days, TV ads sponsored by “No Casinos” have aired in Florida voicing opposition to the new compact and its associated legislation.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican party presidential nomination in 2016, has emerged as an opponent, as well. He said “now is not the time” to move forward on a new compact.
The Seminole Tribe has been airing TV ads voicing support of the new compact, focusing on the potential increase in tax revenue to the state’s coffers and new jobs that would be created.
The Seminole Tribe spent $22 million on the No Casinos Amendment 3 and therefore doesn't think sports betting requires a statewide voter approval. "We may be naive, but we're not crazy,'' says Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen.— Mary Ellen Klas (@MaryEllenKlas) May 17, 2021
Special Session Underway
The House and Senate were briefly in general session before a series of committee meetings were held in the afternoon. Senate President Wilton Simpson had posted nine separate pieces of legislation on the session’s official calendar. Six companion bills were subsequently filed in the House.
The proposed compact between the Tribe and state (SB 2A) easily passed the Senate appropriations committee Monday by an 18-1 vote, as did the other bills being considered in the upper chamber.
The session is scheduled to run the entire week.
The bills include one approving the proposed, 75-page gaming compact between the state and Seminole Tribe that would run through 2051. Another bill would formally create the Florida Gaming Control Commission and set aside money to pay its members. A third would eliminate the requirement that current pari-mutuel holders run a minimum series of live or simulcast events to keep operating card rooms and allow those card rooms to operate on a broader schedule.
An Issue with Fantasy Sports
Attorney Scott Ward spoke on behalf of DraftKings and FanDuel in front of the Senate Appropriations committee. He opposed a separate bill that would limit fantasy sports fees collected in Florida, raise the age of players to 21 and force providers like FanDuel and DraftKings to pay an initial licensing fee of $1 million and a $250,000 annual fee.
Ward said both DraftKings and FanDuel has no official position on the actual gaming compact and that he was only representing the two firms on the fantasy sports issue.
The compact calls for the operation of sports betting within Florida through servers based on Indian lands. That provision, supporters say, eliminates the need for any public approval via Amendment 3 because it is on Indian land. According to the compact, the Tribe is to act in “good faith” and award at least three sports betting licenses to the 19 current pari-mutuel holders deemed eligible.
Opponents of the deal in the pari-mutuel industry are weary because the compact also includes an out for the Tribe if those licenses are not approved in the form of a 2% penalty. They say that money can easily be made up by the Tribe and, thus, the Tribe will not actively seek outside partners.
In any case, whether sports betting operates solely within the Tribe’s domain or the other licenses are approved, the actual betting will be permitted online for those over 21 who are physically located within the state via geo-tagging.
There would betting on college, professional team sporting events and motorsports. But no prop betting on college events is permitted.
In addition to the elimination of online casino gambling, current casino owners will not be allowed to transfer their licenses under any bill that passes in the special session. The owner of the Fontainebleau Resort had hoped to move his current license to a new to-be-built casino in Miami Beach. Donald Trump’s Doral Club also reportedly wanted to open a new casino on the site using the license of a current license-holder.
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