How Florida Geopolitical Divide Boosts Seminole Tribe’s Casino Monopoly

Written By Steve Schult on April 17, 2023
Florida political divide helps Seminole Tribe's casinos

Florida is home to six Las Vegas-style casinos and one Class II property.

All are owned by the state’s two federally recognized tribes. But the Seminole Tribe of Florida owns all six Class III facilities.

According to one legal expert, the Seminoles’ Class III monopoly will remain for the foreseeable future.

Amendment 3 and its effect on the Florida gambling market

In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of Amendment 3. The ballot initiative established a constitutional amendment that mandated that voters must approve any future gaming expansion.

Both Disney and the Seminoles pushed the amendment. Historically, Disney was against bringing any gambling to the state. They saw the addition of casinos as a threat to their family-friendly brand.

On the other hand, the Seminoles viewed the measure as a way to curb any future competition. The tribe already has an existing gaming compact with the state. This ballot initiative made entering the market tougher for a commercial casino.

The passage of Amendment 3 made Florida gaming a constitutional issue.

As a result, any gambling expansion would need 60% of the vote.

Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, says the political divide within the state, combined with Amendment 3, will keep the Seminoles at the forefront for quite some time.

North and South Florida are ‘diametrically opposed’ to gambling

According to Jarvis, 2/3 of the state is against gambling.

“There is no way you’re getting 60% of Florida’s voters to vote for gambling because the entire northern third of the state is against gambling of any sort for religious reasons,” he told PlayFL. “North Florida is really South Georgia. They are just religiously against it. And the middle third of Florida always asks, ‘Is this good or bad for Disney? Because we live and die with those theme parks.’ Well, this isn’t good for Disney. This isn’t good for the theme parks.”

With Central and North Florida opposed to expansion, that leaves South Florida in favor of it. Jarvis said South Floridians would want “gambling on every street corner.”

“When you talk about Florida, we are not a monolith,” Jarvis said. “We are three states, and we really should just split up. North Florida and South Florida are diametrically opposed to each other. And the people in Central Florida just vote with their pocketbooks.”

Whichever way you slice up the electorate, there won’t be enough votes to pass gambling expansion. At least not with the current demographics and thresholds.

Previously, Florida only required a simple majority to pass constitutional amendments. With those requirements, it would be possible to get the votes.

However, even non-gambling-related issues weren’t passing at the ballot box. The past three constitutional amendments had nothing to do with gambling, but none reached the 60% mark.

“It’s basically an uphill struggle to get a constitutional amendment passed,” Jarvis said. “And for Florida to get a gambling constitutional amendment to pass? It’s never going to happen.”

North Florida lawmakers placated by keeping gaming on tribal land

With such strong views on gaming, it seems crazy North Florida lawmakers don’t protest the Seminole Tribe’s current casinos. But the current tribal-only situation was more of a compromise than anything else.

“You might ask, ‘Why is the state of Florida in bed with the Indians?’” Jarvis said. “And it’s because it is the only way the legislature can appease the North Florida legislators. By sitting there and saying, ‘Look, the Indians are here. We can’t get rid of them and they have federal law on their side.’ So rather than have a free-for-all, because we don’t want Florida to become Nevada, they effectively say, ‘We’re going to have these red-light districts (for gambling).’”

This compromise seemingly worked for everyone.

North Florida lawmakers could tell their constituents there wouldn’t be casinos in their local neighborhoods. The state government received revenue-sharing payments. And the Seminole Tribe got a monopoly on Florida casinos.

It’s borne out if you look at a map of their location. The Seminoles have five of their six properties within a two-hour drive of Fort Lauderdale. Their sixth is in Tampa, the most northern casino in the Sunshine State.

North of that, it’s all pari-mutuel facilities, which lack the offerings found at Seminole-owned casinos.

Seminoles claim they keep gaming ‘homegrown’

In recent years, larger companies began trying to crack the Florida casino industry. For example, Las Vegas Sands funded a 2022 ballot initiative that would’ve allowed commercial gaming in Jacksonville.

The initiative failed to get enough signatures to get in front of voters. But Jarvis said it doesn’t look like the legislature wants them there anyway.

“The legislature says, ‘We don’t want to deal with FanDuel, DraftKings, MGM or Las Vegas Sands. We’re willing to keep this as a homegrown sort of thing,’” Jarvis said. “Which of course, the Seminoles turn around and say, ‘You should keep them out.’”

Despite their actions benefitting the tribe’s self-interests, it doesn’t negate the message’s validity.

“It’s very powerful and there’s a lot of truth to it,” Jarvis said. “Why give money to a Las Vegas corporation that doesn’t give a crap about Florida? ‘Give it to us because we reinvest in Florida. Because we are Florida’s first citizens.’”

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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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