The Seminole tribe in August donated a hefty sum to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Florida’s Seminoles added $1 million more to Desantis’ re-election bid.
The Seminole tribe doesn’t comment on the specifics of campaign contributions. The support, however, comes about a year after DeSantis negotiated a new, 30-year gaming compact with the tribe. It was ratified by the state legislature in a special session and eventually approved by the Department of the Interior. The agreement legalized Florida sports betting and authorized the Seminole tribe to operate mobile sports betting throughout the state.
But that compact faced pushback from competing interests in the Sunshine State. The ownership group of a pair of pari-mutuels filed suit over the provisions in the Florida gaming compact that gave the Seminoles an effective monopoly over the sports betting industry. Last November, a federal judge agreed as Judge Dabney Friedrich said the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, nullifying the deal.
Seminoles are consistent donors to the DeSantis campaign
The latest donation marks $4 million for the year the tribe has given directly and indirectly to DeSantis. The first two donations, totaling $3 million, went through the Republican Governors Association (RGA). The PAC focuses on electing Republican politicians. Donations to the RGA defy public scrutiny, allowing major corporate donors to fly under the radar while fueling specific campaigns.
The recent $1 million donation went directly through DeSantis’ PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis. The donation also comes as the first filings in the appeal of Judge Friedrich’s decision invalidating that compact are due.
Donation puts Seminoles among DeSantis’ top donors
The recent donation also puts the Seminoles at the top of the governor’s donor list behind billionaires and PACs.
- Individual: Las Vegas billionaire and Budget Suites founder Robert Bigelow ($10 million)
- Individual: Billionaire hedge fund founder Ken Griffin ($5 million)
- Entity: The RGA (over $15 million)
- Entity: The Republican Party of Florida ($1.7 million)
With three months to go until the election, the Seminoles could make more donations.
How do these donations affect the appeal of the vacated compact?
Directly, not at all. The Seminoles and the Department of the Interior, which approved the compact, are the entities filing briefs supporting it. West Flagler Associates, which brought the lawsuit against the DOI’s decision, will respond to those briefs in October.
Should the appeal overturn the District Court’s ruling, the tribal compact will be reinstated. That decision would likely sit poorly with Flagler and other entities. They entirely disapprove of the “hub-and-spoke” model of the sports betting agreement, which gave the tribe the lion’s share of the market.
Further legal action could be taken. That is where leverage with the governor could assist in perhaps placating the aggrieved parties, like West Flagler Associates. The Havenick family owns West Flagler. The group operates both Magic City Casino in Miami and Bonita Springs Poker Room just outside Naples.
Money will not bring sports betting to Florida in 2022
Despite major donations, directly and indirectly, to DeSantis’ re-election bid, the Seminoles can’t control their destiny with money alone. The DC Court of Appeals’ established timeline has set Nov. 14 as the drop deadline for all briefs from all parties. After that, panels and oral arguments will commence before the bench rules.
This timeline ensures that sports betting will not re-launch until at least early 2023. This assumes the appeals process turns in the tribe’s favor. At that point, the tribe could turn their fiscal attention to the next political impediment to their control over sports betting: The passage of a citizen ballot measure legalizing sports betting in the state.