The Architects Of The Last Two Florida Gaming Compacts Could Face-Off In Gubernatorial Race

Written By Steve Schult on August 18, 2022 - Last Updated on August 22, 2022
Charlie Crist Florida Gaming Compact

Gov. Ron DeSantis is the favorite to win a second term as Florida’s governor, according to most polls.

Additionally, the Republican is one of the most well-funded candidates in the country this election season. He just received a seven-figure donation from the Seminole Tribe. The move came about 15 months after he negotiated a new, 30-year gaming compact with the tribe.

But one of the frontrunners to square off against DeSantis has quite a history with the tribe himself.

Congressman Charlie Crist is seeking to win the Florida governorship for a second time. He signed a monumental deal with the Seminoles during his first term in the office.

Crist was the first governor to ink a gaming compact with a tribal entity

Crist currently represents Florida’s 13th district in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat. However, during the first half of his political career, he governed as a Republican.

Crist was in the state Senate from 1993 to 1999. After a failed campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, he served as Florida Education Commissioner and then as Florida Attorney General. In 2006, he was elected governor as a Republican.

The Florida State University alumnus served one term as governor from 2007-2011. But in 2010, he ultimately left his mark on the Florida history books when he inked the state’s first gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.

What the 2010 Seminole gaming compact did

Charlie Crist signs 2010 Florida gaming compact
Charlie Crist signs the Seminole gaming compact in 2010 (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

In April 2010, Crist put his signature on the Seminole Gaming Compact bill. The legislation gave the tribe exclusive rights over operating slot machines and house-backed card games like blackjack in the state. Furthermore, it guaranteed at least $1 billion worth of tax revenue to the state through revenue-sharing payments.

It also allowed all of the state’s gambling facilities, pari-mutuels included, to spread poker games with buy-in structures similar to those in the rest of the country. Before the deal, poker games had buy-ins capped at $100, regardless of what the blinds were.

It created a mini-poker boom in Florida and gave Seminole-owned properties the spark they needed to become one of the most popular poker destinations in the country.

According to media reports at the time, a Seminole gaming compact was one of Crist’s biggest priorities as governor.

“Today’s bill signing is the last step in a historic effort that benefits both the Seminole Tribe and the entire state of Florida,” said Crist in a press release more than 12 years ago. “Following three years of healthy debate and deliberation, the children and families of Florida are now the beneficiaries of much-needed money that will be used to fund critical needs such as education.”

History repeating: Crist also struggled to pass compact

DeSantis’ 2021 deal hit a huge roadblock when a U.S. District Court judge invalidated the compact last November. After legal challenges from a couple of pari-mutuel facilities, Judge Dabney Friedrich said sports betting provisions violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Her ruling jeopardizes the compact and ultimately delays a re-launch of the Florida sports betting market. But after looking at Crist’s uphill battle to pass a compact, it appears these agreements take multiple attempts to pass.

The 2010 deal was Crist’s third attempt at passing the compact. The first was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court and the second couldn’t pass the legislature.

With the 2021 compact currently vacated, Crist’s 2010 agreement is technically still law of the land.

How likely is Crist to win the Democratic nomination?

Right around the time he signed the compact, Crist left the Republican party and became an independent. He chose not to run for re-election and Republican Rick Scott won the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Scott served two terms before DeSantis won the 2018 election.

In 2012, Crist switched his affiliation to the Democratic Party. He lost the 2014 gubernatorial race to Scott but won a seat in Congress during the next election cycle that he still holds today.

Last May, he announced he would run for governor for the third time. But even before he announced his candidacy, Crist was a frontrunner for the nomination.

A February poll from the University of North Florida showed that Crist was the most likely candidate to earn the nomination.

Nikki Fried gains momentum as Democratic primary nears

Nikki Fried Florida gaming compact
Nikki Fried at the state capitol in 2019 (AP Photo/Steve Cannon, File)

However, with the primary just five days away on Aug. 23, a new UNF poll shows a new front runner. The poll gives the edge to state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried by a few percentage points.

According to Dr. Michael Pinder, a political science professor at UNF, Fried overtook Crist thanks to support from women.

“Fried seems to have reversed the eight-point lead that Crist had when we asked registered Democrats about vote choice in February,” Pinder told Yahoo News. “It’s possible that the overturning of Roe v. Wade changed the make-up of this race, and has particularly energized women that are almost 20 points more likely to vote for her.”

At this point, Fried clearly holds the edge. But polls haven’t been the most reliable indicator in recent elections. And with time running out before the primary, any sort of news could sway potential Democratic voters.

What would a possible Crist governorship mean for Florida sports betting?

Even if Crist wins the nomination, he is still a statistical underdog to defeat a very popular incumbent. But if he did pull off an upset win in November, it likely won’t change much for Florida sports betting.

PlayFL reached out to both Crist’s and Fried’s campaigns for comment on their sports betting stance. Neither responded to our request.

While Crist switched stances on several key issues while changing political parties, gambling expansion wasn’t one he made a public statement on. Until he says he opposes a legal Florida sports betting industry, it’s safe to assume he would push for legalization as he did during his first term.

Does his previous relationship with the Seminoles influence Crist’s chances?

It certainly helps Crist’s cause that an entity with pockets as deep as the Seminole Tribe has done business with him in the past.

But in this case, it appears that the Seminoles have already chosen their horse in the race. And it’s DeSantis.

Based on their past political donations, it doesn’t appear that the tribe has a specific political leaning. However, the incumbent is the man that’s done the most to put them in a position to capture most of the Florida sports betting industry.

Photo by Chris O'Meara / Associated Press
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Written by
Steve Schult

As Managing Editor of PlayFL, Steve will stay on top of all things related to the Florida gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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