Florida Legislature Takes Special Look At Gaming Issues This Week

Written By Matthew Kredell on May 17, 2021 - Last Updated on May 25, 2022
Special Gambling Session in Florida

This week, the discussion in the Florida legislature turns to gambling. And only gambling.

Legislative leaders called the special session to ratify the compact signed last month by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe. The compact sets up the Seminoles to run statewide sports betting.

But the compact isn’t the only gaming issue on the agenda week. In all, Sen. Travis Hutson filed nine gaming bills.

Hutson spoke to PlayFL two weeks ago about special session expectations in the Senate. Rep. Chip LaMarca recently provided his thoughts on the House side.

The session will last at least three days. It begins Monday at 1 pm EST. To follow the coverage, tune into The Florida Channel.

Gaming compact takes center stage at special session

The 30-year compact restores Florida’s relationship with the Seminole, which stopped making gaming payments to the state in 2019. If all goes right, the state will make at least $2.5 billion over the first five years of the compact.

There’s plenty of details to go over on the compact. Key ones include:

  • Statewide online sports betting in partnership with pari-mutuels.
  • Craps and roulette added as permissible games at tribal casinos.
  • Continued discussions on online casino gaming. For 36 months following the effective date of the compact, the parties may amend the compact to authorize the tribe to casino games online and via mobile devices.
  • Tribes must partner with pari-mutuel facilities, allowing them to access the Tribe’s wagering platform using their own brand. The tribes then pay no less than 60% of the revenue from bets placed through the pari-mutuels.
  • Allows the Seminole to build three more casinos on its Hollywood Reservation. The tribe currently operates seven casinos.
  • Legalizes fantasy sports contests.
  • Provides significant concessions to racetracks and cardrooms in Florida. These include operation of slot machines at eight pari-mutuel facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade countieshistorical horse racing machines, and electronic bingo card minders at all other pari-mutuel facilities.
  • The Seminole would no longer consider it a violation of its exclusivity for pari-mutuels to operate designated-player card games. This has been the major point of contention between gaming industry parties in the state for the past decade.

However, lawmakers can’t alter the compact. They can only vote it up or down.

“Either we approve it or we send it back to the governor without being approved,” LaMarca said. “Because we can’t really negotiate it or modify it. We can only say we looked through every component of this and don’t agree with it.”

Other issues in Florida special session on gaming

Nothing could really be done in Florida gaming until the compact was out of the way. Now that it is agreed upon, a number of issues brought up in recent years can be addressed.

Here are the nine Senate bills from Hutson:

  • 2-A: Ratification of the 2021 Gaming Compact.
  • 4-A/6-A: Establishes a Florida Gaming Control Commission to oversee gaming in Florida and combat illegal gaming.
  • 8-A:  Changes for parimutuel operators. These include decoupling, or allowing pari-mutuel facilities to offer slot machines and card games without holding live races, extending hours to 24/7, and allowing casinos to serve complimentary drinks around slot machines.
  • 10-A, 12-A, 14-A: Related to bingo regulation, taxes and fees.
  • 16-A, 18-A: Regulation and fees for fantasy sports.

Other than the compact, these bills can and likely will be amended during the session.

“The biggest issue is we haven’t really heard from parimutuels or other facilities or license holders in the state, but we have heard from some of the other sports wagering entities as far as how this is going to work,” LaMarca said.

Will legal concerns for compact be discussed?

In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 3 requiring gambling expansions to go through voters, unless the expansion is through a compact for gaming “on tribal lands.”

The actions taken in the compact to get around that language have inspired legal debate since the compact’s signing.

The FAQ sent out an implementation of the compact by Senate President Walton Simpson explains “mobile sports betting is deemed at all times to be exclusively conducted by the Seminole Tribe where wagers are received by servers and devices at the Seminole Tribe’s facilities on Indian lands.”

The FAQ adds that this is not a new concept in terms of mobile sports wagering:

“In 2016, a binding arbitration certified in federal court between the State of Oklahoma and the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma determined the use of the Internet to play properly authorized covered games as agreed by the parties does not violate IGRA.”

Florida-based gaming attorney Daniel Wallach calls it out as a flimsy case for the state and Seminole tribe to base this argument.

However, Hutson, Simpson, and LaMarca are confident that the compact will withstand legal challenges.

And there’s not much to discuss since lawmakers can’t alter the compact.

“There’s always legal concerns with respect to gaming,” LaMarca said. “It’s always part of the conversation. We’ve learned that our partners with the Seminole tribe are very innovative and creative from a business perspective. If it ends up in court, that’s out of our hands.”

What will come out of Florida special session?

All nine Florida gaming bills are likely to pass by the end of the week.

Hutson previously pointed out that he and Simpson wrote most of the compact language before handing it off to the governor. He expects the Senate to ratify the compact and finish up the special session by Wednesday.

However, House members aren’t as familiar with gaming issues as their colleagues in the Senate. They had the opportunity to catch up last week. Florida held daily Legislative University classes on topics such as:

  • The History of Gaming in Florida
  • Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and Tribal Compacts
  • Live Racing and Games Decoupling
  • Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe

Florida Politics reported that at least 20 members of the Legislature are against expanding gambling in the state, according to House Minority Co-Leader Evan Jenne. But this does not include House Speaker Chris Sprowles, who is pushing for ratifying the compact.

“I feel optimistic we’ll get it through,” LaMarca said. “It’s important that we realign with the tribe because the current compact isn’t being honored by both sides. My gut tells me we’ll be done by Thursday.”

Photo by AP / Wilfredo Lee
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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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