One Florida Senator Who Voted Against Seminole Compact Speaks Out After Court Ruling

Written By Matthew Kredell on December 7, 2021

State Sen. Jeff Brandes thinks Florida could do sports betting outside a tribal compact after a federal judge vacated the previous agreement with the Seminole Tribe.

Brandes spoke to PlayFL about the options for the state to move forward with sports betting after the court decision, which the Seminoles are appealing.

He laid out three options for Florida to legalize sports wagering once and for all:

  1. Another compact worked out between the governor and the tribe.
  2. A bill crafted by the legislature.
  3. A ballot initiative, such as the one proposed by DraftKings and FanDuel.

“I think everything is back on the table,” Brandes said. “The state may try to enter into another compact with the tribe that excludes sports betting. However, I don’t know if the tribe will accept that. Potentially, the state will run a sports betting bill outside of the compact.”

Compact ruling didn’t surprise Brandes

If there’s one lawmaker who can say “I told you so” after seeing the Seminole deal crumble, it’s Brandes. He was the only state senator to vote against ratification during a three-day special session in May.

During that session, everyone knew that the sports betting language in the compact would face legal challenges. But Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen assured lawmakers the rest of the arrangement would stand.

That turned out not to be the case. US District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich vacated the entire compact.

“I think multiple pieces of the compact were so damaging that the entire compact could not be read as a whole with major parts missing,” Brandes said. “It made more sense to require the whole compact be renegotiated given the number of holes the court was about to put in it.”

When they voted to ratify the compact, Florida lawmakers did so under the impression that, even in an unfavorable court ruling, it would guarantee Florida at least $400 million annually.

Brandes explained why the ruling caught many Florida legislators off guard:

“I have no doubt that it was unexpected. It wasn’t a huge surprise, at least by me. But, then again, I was the outlier. Clearly, they didn’t understand the potential risks. And they were given bad legal counsel.”

Senator expects sports betting initiative to qualify

Unhappy with the monopolistic nature of the sports betting model in the Seminole compact, DraftKings and FanDuel contributed an initial $20 million to back a mobile sports betting initiative.

With less than two months to qualify for the ballot, the campaign has a long way to go to reach the 891,589 valid signatures needed. However, Brandes is confident they’ll make the ballot.

“They will get the signatures,” Brandes said. “They have an incredible amount of resources. And the court throwing out the compact has given them a unique opportunity.”

With no compact and no sports betting competition on the ballot, the initiative could be the best opportunity for Florida to move forward with sports betting in 2022. Brandes expects the Seminoles to run their own sports betting constitutional amendment in 2024.

Brandes supports the DraftKings/FanDuel initiative for its open-market approach. It authorizes online wagering for professional sports venuespari-mutuel facilitiessports betting operators authorized to conduct sports betting in at least ten states for a minimum of one calendar year, and the Seminoles.

“I’m fully supportive of a free and open market for sports betting in Florida that’s available for all the qualified vendors,” Brandes said. “I think if Florida is going to be known as the freest state in the country, it has to be the freest state in sports betting as well. And the initiative I think does that.”

But he prefers a legislative solution for sports betting

Brandes filed bills the past two years to legalize sports betting through the Florida Lottery.

He would do sports betting through legislation. But it’s unclear if that is even possible based on Amendment 3.

The 2018 constitutional amendment requires any Florida casino gambling expansion to originate with voters. Brandes doesn’t believe this applies to sports betting, but others disagree.

Brandes said he would look for opportunities to attach sports betting to any other gaming bill introduced this year. But he is being termed out of office in November.

Then there’s the problem that a tribal compact requires that the state offer meaningful concessions to a tribe. Without sports betting, Brandes indicated that its possible online casino gaming could be a significant concession in the future.

Whatever way Florida handles sports betting, he doesn’t expect to see the monopoly given to the Seminoles in the compact.

“There’s been multiple economic impact studies that show there’s more money available for education and other areas if we open the market up,” Brandes said. “Obviously, a larger market means more participants, more revenue and more money for the state. Given the economic analysis we’ve seen, it’s unlikely we’ll just give a monopoly to the tribe in a bill.”

Photo by RozenskiP / Shutterstock.com
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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