Florida Agriculture Commissioner: Gaming Compact Will Bring In Over $1 Billion Annually

Written By Jason Jarrett on August 11, 2023
Florida's new gaming compact could bring in $1 billion annually.

As the date gets closer and closer for sports betting in Florida to restart, the man primarily responsible for brokering the deal that brought it to the state believes the state will make out better than expected.

Wilton Simpson, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services commissioner, recently appeared on “A Deeper Dive with Dara Kam,” a News Service of Florida podcast, to discuss the state of Florida-Seminole gaming compact. The compact, signed in 2021, authorized the tribe to offer retail and online sports betting in Florida. The Seminoles can also offer craps and roulette at their casinos as part of the agreement, which was expected to route $500 million to the state annually before it got tied up in the courts.

Simpson, formerly the Florida Senate President from 2020 to 2022, was the main point person in the Legislature who brokered the deal with the Seminole Tribe over several years. On the podcast earlier this month, he said he believes the state will see more money come into its coffers over the years.

“I think you’ll see that the compact moving forward will mean well over $500 million a year to the state of Florida,” Simpson said. “And in 10 years, it’ll be well over $1 billion a year of recurring revenue for us to be able to spend on our priorities.”

The priorities that Simpson references are environment and education, two primary beneficiaries put explicitly in the language of the deal with the Seminole Tribe.

How the state gaming compact came together

In May 2021, the state and the Seminole Tribe agreed on a new 30-year gaming compact that would increase the annual payment amounts to the state. A couple of pari-mutuel operators in the state sued in federal court to have the compact voided, and in November 2021, a judge ruled it violated federal law. The DC Court of Appeals vacated that decision on June 30, and now the terms of the compact are back in play.

Simpson, who said he “occasionally will play blackjack,” believes the new compact is a fair deal to not only the Seminoles and the state but also the other pari-mutuels that offer forms of gambling in Florida.

“There’s 23 different pari-mutuels around the state with 23 different objectives,” Simpson said. “We worked very closely with them during this process. … Negotiations are tough, and you never are going to get 100% of everything you want.

“When we were getting through this process, the pari-mutuels were clearly wanting more and more, the state wanted more and more revenue, the tribe wanted more and more opportunities to game online. And I think we landed in the place where we can all be proud of.”

Inclusion of Florida sports betting should hold up in court

Simpson, who served 11 years in the Legislature and now heads the agency that has the gaming deal under its purview, believes the next test for the gaming compact will come in state courts.

In 2018, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that said any casino gambling expansion in the state had to be approved by residents through a ballot initiative.

Some deduce the expansion of gambling in the 2021 compact violates the will of that amendment. One law professor believes that opponents will try to argue that case in Florida state court. Simpson agrees.

“I believe that someone will file a motion in a state court to stop this process, and we’ll have to see what the state courts do,” Simpson said.

But Simpson, a Lakeland native, also maintains that how the compact was finally crafted should ultimately pass legal muster. The final deal penned a hub-and-spoke model of tribal gambling, allowing statewide mobile sports bets if the servers are on tribal land.

“I believe that by keeping those servers on tribal lands, that we have satisfied the requirement of the Constitution. … We were very careful when we put that together to make sure that we were upholding the Constitution of the state of Florida. And I believe we have,” Simpson said.

Case could end up at Supreme Court

Some legal experts believe that either through federal court or through state court, the legality of the compact might end up at the nation’s highest court. Simpson trusts that the gaming compact will survive if legal arguments make it to the Supreme Court.

“I do believe the way that it was crafted within the law, it will ultimately, even if it comes to the Supreme Court, be in a position to to have as the Legislature drew it up,” Simpson said.

Photo by Shutterstock / Illustration by PlayFL.com
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Jason Jarrett

Jason is the managing editor PlayFL.com 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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