Will Florida’s Next Governor Support Online Casinos?

Written By Adam Hensley on May 10, 2024
A stock photo of an online casino

It’s no secret that Hard Rock’s Seminole Tribe wants to add online casinos to its Florida offerings.

But given that Gov. Ron DeSantis will hit his term limit in two years, and with the legal challenge against the tribe’s exclusivity over sports betting still active, how likely is it the next governor will support iGaming in the Sunshine State?

PlayFl looks at some of the potential candidates for governor and their stances on Florida online casinos.

Tribe Looks to Add Online Casinos After Sports Betting Case is Resolved

Hard Rock International Chairman and CEO of Seminole Gaming Jim Allen recently told PlayUSA that his team plans to negotiate with the state to add online casinos after the sports betting lawsuit concludes.

“I think that, No. 1, if the case was resolved in our favor, we would then have to reinitiate conversations with the Governor’s Office, the House and the Senate. And then that becomes a political process that we would navigate through. Certainly, the polling suggests that the citizens of the state of Florida would like to have it, but you have to go through the process.”

West Flagler Associates sued the tribe last year over the state’s sports betting model. West Flagler, which owns pari-mutuel facilities in the state, claimed the “hub-and-spoke” model violated federal standards.

Initially, a federal judge agreed with West Flagler’s assertion. However, the Seminole Tribe won an appeal thanks to a decision from the DC Court of Appeals. West Flagler appealed a final time. Thus, the case has made its way to the US Supreme Court, which hasn’t decided yet whether it will even hear it.

When the case is resolved, a different person could be sitting in the Florida governor’s seat.

Republicans Who Could Run for Florida Governor

Florida Reps Matt Gaetz and Byron Donalds are viewed as the most likely Republicans to seek the governorship in two years. Also in the mix could be Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and the current first lady, Casey DeSantis.

Rep. Matt Gaetz

Some view Gaetz as the top candidate in the Republican race for governor. While he dismissed the idea out of hand, he admitted to Politico that he was intrigued.

“I would definitely enjoy that job so much. I would never leave it if I ever got that opportunity.”

In 2016, Gaetz discussed a sweeping amendment to the proposed gaming compact. His proposal called for the addition of slot machines in five Florida counties with voter approval. He also pushed for daily fantasy sports to be legally recognized in the state.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Donalds confirmed to Politico last fall that he is interested in running for governor. Donalds was just the third black Republican to serve in Congress when he was elected in 2020.

Like Gaetz, he’s a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, who is expected to be the Republican nominee for president again this year after serving in the role from 2026 to 2020.

But unlike Gaetz, Donalds has not publicly shared his views on expanding gambling in Florida.

Florida AG Ashley Moody

While Moody has not publicly stated that she plans to run for governor, she could very well be a top gubernatorial candidate when the time comes.

Last year, she echoed DeSantis’ push to dismiss the lawsuit against the Seminoles’ gaming compact with the state.

Given her strong alliance with DeSantis, it’s likely that if she were elected governor, she would continue his policies on gaming. That could include amending the compact to allow online casinos.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez

Nunez was DeSantis’ running mate in both 2018 and 2022. She continues to be loyal to the current governor, having endorsed him for president last May. In turn, DeSantis said Nunez would be a great fit as the next Florida governor.

Similar to Moody, her good standing with DeSantis could be key to expanding gambling in the state.

In 2021, Nunez told WPTZ she supported the compact.

“We feel strongly that it’s going to benefit Floridians.

“It’s a considerable amount of money that will be flowing into our coffers for things that we of course could put to good use. Education, transportation, infrastructure, the environment.”

First Lady Casey DeSantis

Of course, if Casey DeSantis ran for governor, it would be like her husband was running again. He boasts a good relationship with the Seminole Tribe, so that would be expected to continue.

On paper, iGaming’s best chance of being added in Florida would be with Casey at the helm.

Could a Democrat Become Florida’s Next Governor?

Florida has not had a Democratic governor since the late 1990s. It’s viewed as an uphill battle for a Democrat to take over from DeSantis, but Politico named three in particular who could potentially be up for the task.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz

Out of the three Democratic candidates Politico mentioned, Moskowitz could be the Seminole Tribe’s best option for online casinos.

Moskowitz previously served in DeSantis’ cabinet as Florida’s director of emergency management. He told Politico that he’s “not ruling out” a bid for governor.

Moskowitz is probably the closest of possible Democratic candidates to have similar views to DeSantis. With their history, Moskowitz could be a potential ally for online casino expansion.

In 2014, he sponsored legislation that would have allowed expanded gambling at pari-mutuel facilities.

Sen. Shervin Jones

Last fall, Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones told Politico that throwing his hat in the ring for Florida’s governor was “absolutely” something he was “strongly considering.”

As a Florida businessman, Jones has pushed against casino expansion.

“Fontainebleau is in my district, and my constituents and the city leaders have been very clove and clear about their opposition on this issue. I believe at this time this is not the best move for the city of the people within it.”

Casino expansion in that area has been a hot topic in recent years. Given his stance, Jones might be against allowing online casinos in the state if he was governor.

Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell

Similar to Jones, Driskell told Politico that she was “strongly considering” a bid for the governorship. She might be more lenient on expanded gambling than Jones would be.

Earlier this year, when Florida leaders spoke of putting legal gambling tax dollars toward environmental projects, Driskell seemed to support the notion.

“We know that the gambling compact was a move that we made as a state in order to have more revenue to do some of the things we need as priorities. And protecting our environment is something our caucus would be glad to support.”

Considering that an online Hard Rock casino presence would bolster that funding, Driskell could very well be on board as governor.

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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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