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Florida poised to approve new gaming rules when lawmakers return next week

'We feel strongly that it's going to benefit Floridians,' Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez says
Posted at 3:14 PM, May 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-14 16:52:25-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Lawmakers will soon return to the Florida Capitol to consider new gambling rules in the nation's third-most populous state.

A gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe is on the table allowing mobile sports and fantasy betting -- plus bigger tribal casinos.

The special gaming session is set to begin Monday afternoon and could take all week. Lawmakers are considering whether to ratify the deal and nine bills to implement and regulate it.

What isn’t known is what they'll decide.

The basics of the 30-year agreement include the following:

  • Craps and roulette at the state's six Seminole facilities
  • Freedom to add three more on the tribe's Hollywood property
  • Creation of a tribe-controlled hub for mobile sports and fantasy betting
  • Promise of future negotiation for online casino gaming

"We feel strongly that it's going to benefit Floridians," said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez.

Nuñez and the DeSantis administration were excited about the prospect of lawmaker approval as Florida is guaranteed to get $2.5 billion in new revenue over the first five years.

Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez
Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez says the gaming deal will mean $2.5 billion in new state revenue over the first five years.

"It's a considerable amount of money that will be flowing into our coffers for things that we of course could put to good use," Nuñez said. "Education, transportation, infrastructure, the environment."

Leading up to next week's work, lawmakers have been reviewing current state laws on gaming. Some have even taken advantage of online courses to boost their knowledge.

All the while, a lobbying war between supporters and opponents has been raging.

The tribe has dropped almost daily video ads, highlighting the benefits of the agreement, more than 2,000 new jobs, more tourism, and increased state dollars.

Opponents are not having it.

No Casinos President John Sowinski hammered the pact as a massive expansion of gaming that he believes Floridians don't want.

"Do we want Florida to be the next Las Vegas or the next Macau, China?" Sowinski said.

In its ad, No Casinos identifies the mobile sports betting provision as overstepping Florida law. Sowinski said it requires voter approval under 2018's Amendment 3.

"It is not legal and permissible to have tribal gambling exceed the boundaries of tribal lands," Sowinski said.

That will likely be the sticking point in future litigation, which the No Casinos president expected. However, pact supporters continue to believe they're on solid ground, citing similar cases in Oklahoma and New Jersey. In those states, courts allowed mobile wagering under tribal control still considering it on tribal land.

John Sowinski
John Sowinski fears that Florida will become another Las Vegas if a new gaming compact is approved by lawmakers.

In a fact sheet from Senate leaders, officials said the following about the Amendment 3 concerns:

"This is not a new concept in terms of mobile sports wagering, and IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] allows such jurisdictional arrangements."

It goes on to say:

"...the 2021 Gaming Compact and the proposed legislation to implement and approve the 2021 Compact, consistent with IGRA and Amendment 3, stipulate that the Seminole Tribe and the state agree that the wagers on sports betting are deemed to take place where the wagers are received at the servers and devices at the Seminole Tribe’s facilities on Indian lands. Thus, the parties have agreed that the entire gaming transaction will be governed by IGRA as taking place on Indian lands."

While the courts may yet play a role in all this, that's not all.

Federal regulators will also need to sign off on the deal due to the tribal connection.