Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson laid out plans for the coming special session addressing the future of gambling.
The legislature will meet beginning May 17 to consider legislation to ratify and implement provisions of a compact signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe.
The governments reached a 30-year agreement to run sports betting through the Seminole and bring the state of Florida at least $500 million annually.
First though, the legislature needs to approve the deal, which some believe could face legal challenges.
Sen. Travis Hutson, a key player in the compact and special session, spoke with PlayFL about what to expect.
Schedule for Florida special session on gaming
In a letter to Senate members and staff, Simpson explained that Hutson will introduce several pieces of legislation for consideration during the special session.
Hutson described to PlayFL the five bills he will introduce:
- Ratifying the 2021 Gaming Compact between the Seminole Tribe and State of Florida.
- Decoupling parimutuel gambling. This means allowing parimutuel facilities to offer slot machines and card games without requiring them to hold live races.
- Creating a Gaming Control Commission to take over as the regulatory and enforcement agency for gaming in Florida.
- Sports betting fee and tax bill. The compact sets up a complicated tiered tax structure that needs implementation by the legislature.
- Fantasy sports fee and tax bill
Bills for decoupling and the commission already were well vetted in Senate committee this session. The language in the special session should be similar.
After the session commences Monday, May 17, the Appropriations committees of each chamber will meet to discuss the bills. Simpson encourages all lawmakers to sit in on the committee so they are informed when the legislation reaches the floor Tuesday.
The legislature will meet for eight hours Tuesday and four hours Wednesday to review the bills. Thursday and Friday are available to complete the process if needed.
Expectations for Florida special session
Hutson expects ratification of the compact because members of the legislature actually put most of the agreement together.
He explained that Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls really led the charge on negotiating the compact with the Seminole. Simpson brought in Hutson to help with the details of online wagering and the tribes serving as hubs for parimutuels.
The legislature then handed the compact off to the governor to finalize the details.
“I would say that the legislature brought the plan from 50,000 feet down to 10, and it was his job to kind of steer it in. He made a couple of tweaks here and there because, at the end of the day, there were still some tough decisions that needed to be made. That got us where we are today with a signed agreement. We’re happy to move forward and ratify his agreement.”
Hutson added that some of the final details worked out by the governor included state guarantees on revenue from the compact, the percentages of sports betting revenue split between the parimutuels and tribe, and making sure the language stayed within the legal confines of Amendment 3.
Hutson hopes the legislature can complete the special session in the minimum of three days. With the Senate already well-versed in these issues, he believes the Senate could pass the bills Tuesday. But the House has newer members who don’t know gaming as well and could take longer.
The legislature can only vote the compact up or down. But discussions could lead to changes in the other bills.
Lawmaker not worried about legal challenges
After ratification, the Seminole compact needs to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the US Department of Interior.
It will be unlike any gaming compact ever to cross the bureau’s desk. What makes Florida’s gaming compact unique is that it sets up statewide sports betting as a form of tribal gaming. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows for gaming on tribal land. The compact attempts to resolve that issue by saying a bet takes place at the server on tribal land, not the location of the person placing the bet.
In Michigan, tribes entered commercial agreements with the state for mobile sports wagering. In the recent compact signed in Arizona, tribes go through the state for mobile licenses.
“From the attorneys we deal with, and we’ve got some really good ones within our staff, the state’s attorneys, the governor himself being an attorney, and the attorneys with the tribes and parimutuels, I feel we’re on solid ground,” Hutson said.
He added that he was told an Oklahoma court case was central to their belief that the compact would pass legal muster.
Opponents to expanding gambling in Florida got a constitutional amendment passed in 2018 requiring gambling expansions to get voter approval. Amendment 3 did include an exception for compacts for gaming “on tribal lands.” Again, whether the location of the wager takes place at the server or the person placing the bet is key. Those same opponents plan to challenge the agreement.
“Under Amendment 3, it did say we can operate anything as long as it’s within a compact, and we believe we’re within that framework,” Hutson said.