Can The Florida-Seminole Gambling Compact Playbook Work In Other States?

Written By Jason Jarrett on July 13, 2023
The Florida-Seminole gambling compact gives tribe power

A court win for Florida’s 2021 gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe was a major step in bringing expanded gaming to the state. Online sports betting in Florida could be restarted as soon as late August, and state casinos seek to fill newly-listed jobs related to offering craps and roulette.

But what does this victory mean nationwide? How likely is it that tribes in other states use the compact as a playbook to go forward with gaming?

While a couple of gambling experts have suggested Florida’s gaming compact with the Seminoles be the model for other states to shoot for in light of June 30’s court victory, one of the foremost authorities in gaming law says it’s a long shot.

Call it complicated. Call Florida the perfect storm.

Three ingredients for a powerful gambling compact

The three ingredients needed to match Florida’s recipe for success on a gambling compact don’t exist in any other state, according to Jeff Ifrah, a Washington, DC-based gaming attorney. Florida’s secret sauce is a mixture of an economically strong Native American tribe, a one-party-controlled Legislature and a same-party governor.

“You take a state like Texas, you have the Republican majority,” Ifrah told PlayFL. “You’ve got the governor, and then you have the Legislature. That’s a check. But you don’t have a tribe like the Seminoles that have such power and girth.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has an estimated worth of at least $12 billion and has had more than $1 billion in annual revenue since the mid-2000s. There’s not a single tribe that could exert as much influence as the Seminoles, Ifrah said.

In California, tribes can operate casinos under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, just like Florida, but 61 tribes operate 63 casinos in the Golden State. Having too many voices has impeded adding mobile sports betting into California’s gambling compacts.

“The (California) tribes have shot themselves in the foot, because the big tribes and the small tribes could not agree on what the (mobile betting) proposal was going to be,” said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

The model Ifrah expects to be the way forward

Ifrah thinks the way forward for Native American tribes nationwide will be the models set in Arizona and Michigan. The tribes participate, but they work alongside the private casino industry.

In these states, the tribes operate brick-and-mortar sportsbooks within casinos. There are also banks of sports betting kiosks throughout the state. Commercial online sportsbooks also have availability. There’s no tribal exclusivity like the Seminoles will have in Florida.

“I don’t think the tribes in Michigan and Arizona are complaining about having to participate in a state-regulated scheme instead of one of their own,” Ifrah said. “I think it’s worked out well. There haven’t been any complaints from consumers, either.”

How state constitutions can get in the way too

One of the largest hurdles that tribes in other states face is state constitutions that have a ban on gambling. Adding the details of mobile sports betting to any tribal-state compacts could trigger constitutional challenges. And, Ifrah said, there’s still a question on whether the terms of Florida’s 2021 compact would pass state courts’ approval if challenged.

“That question remains open. And I think it’s that hurdle that would prevent other states from adopting this model. Because there’s a big flaw in this model,” Ifrah said.

Photo by Shutterstock / Illustration by PlayFL
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Jason Jarrett

Jason is the managing editor and eight other states' websites, covering sports betting and gambling in the two states. He has more than 25 years of journalism experience, spending nearly 10 years as a senior editor at the Austin American-Statesman.

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