Florida Special Session to Expand Gaming Starts Monday

Florida Special Session to Expand Gaming Starts Monday
© USA Today

The Florida legislature begins a special session on Monday that will likely result in the legalization of sports betting in the Sunshine State.

A series of proposed bills and a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida will be debated and voted on by the House and Senate. If they are 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 and are not close to legalizing sports betting.

There are more steps that remain in the process before anyone can legally bet on Tom Brady to win another Super Bowl in his new home state. Any deal involving the Seminole Tribe of Florida must be approved by the Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), which is an independent federal agency within the Department of the Interior, and the regulatory structure for Indian gaming in the United States.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: Comprehensive Look at The Future of Sports Betting In Florida

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 state for several years. In the past few days, TV ads sponsored by “No Casinos” have aired in Florida, voicing opposition to the new compact and its associated legislation.

The Seminole Tribe has also 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.

Special Session Agenda Set

The specific agenda for the special session was set on Friday when senate president Wilton Simpson posted nine separate pieces of legislation on the session’s official calendar. Four companion bills were subsequently filed in the House.

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. The compact was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Tribe last month. 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.

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 geotagging.

There would be betting on college, professional team sporting events and motorsports. But no prop betting on college events is permitted.

Despite numerous reports and bluster in recent months, 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 wants to open a new casino on the site using the license of a current license holder.

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