The Seminole Tribe holds most of the power in the Florida gaming market. However, lawmakers are reviewing proposals that may impact how the Sunshine State’s gambling industry operates.
State officials just recently kicked off the 2024 legislative session. But multiple bills could already impact the state’s gambling landscape.
On the other hand, it’s still in the early stages of the session. State officials will routinely file bills and quickly tossed to the side. However, if the proposals make waves, the impact they have on Florida casinos and Florida sports betting could be substantial.
With the Seminole Tribe fresh off a legal battle, and the 2021 Florida gaming compact law of the land again, gaming didn’t appear to be a pressing issue for legislators in 2024. But one representative pre-filed a bill dealing with daily fantasy sports. A Senator filed an opposing bill just a week before the legislators met.
Two newer bills would alter separate parts of Florida’s gaming operations.
Senate bill would recognize other FL tribes
Sen. Blaise Ingoglia filed Senate Bill 1010 just a few days before the session began. Her proposal would force the state to recognize three tribes in Northern Florida.
Her bill would make the government recognize the Santa Rosa Band of the Lower Muscogee, the Muscogee Nation of Florida and the Lower Chattahoochee Band of Yuchi Indians. Florida only recognizes the Seminoles and the Miccosukee Tribe in South Florida.
Both tribes operate gambling facilities. However, the Seminoles have exclusivity over online sports betting and Las Vegas-style casinos.
But down the road, Ingoglia’s bill could introduce Florida casinos that the Seminole Tribe doesn’t run.
The bill is incredibly short. It’s only a couple of sentences. The penultimate line protects the current gaming setup.
“State recognition of an Indian tribe or band under this section may not be construed to create any basis or authority not otherwise provided by law for an Indian tribe or band to establish or promote any form of otherwise prohibited gambling,” Ingoglia wrote at the end of the bill.
But the key phrase is “provided by law.” Recognizing these tribes could give them leverage they previously didn’t have. State officials could negotiate new deals with other tribes, allowing for more than one casino operator.
While it’s unlikely, the bill could open the door for these other tribes to offer some form of legal gambling. The tribes and the state would ultimately determine what that arrangement would look like.
The Seminoles would not be happy in that scenario. The tribe owns all six Las Vegas-style casinos in Florida, operates the only online sportsbook in the state, and recently expanded its casino offerings to include craps and roulette. New tribal nations would dent their reputation as the most influential entity in Florida gambling.
But given the Seminole Tribe’s history and relationship with the state, this is an extremely unlikely scenario. While technically possible, it’s not probable.
The measure has only been introduced and hasn’t moved in the past week. Is this bill going to reach Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk? Most likely not. However, it could significantly shift the Florida gaming landscape if it gains traction.
Florida lawmakers looking to use sports betting money to expand environmental projects
State lawmakers are also looking at directing what they do with revenue-sharing payments from the recently reinstated Florida sports betting market. Infrastructure is an issue that comes to mind as the proposed bill wants to use some money for environmental projects.
State Rep. Vern Buchanan introduced House Bill 1417, which would dedicate “funding for conservation lands and water quality improvements” with money from the tribe.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1638, introduced by State Sen. Travis Hutson, is similar in vein but more specific. Hutson, one of the sponsors of the two daily fantasy sports bills, elaborates that portions of that money must go towards environmental management and protections, including research.
SB 1638 would use an “indeterminate” amount of revenue available from the 2021 gaming compact. Some lawmakers support using gambling revenue to fund efforts like land acquisition and conservation-related projects.
As part of the gaming compact, the Seminole Tribe facilitated the launch of legal sports betting in Florida. The Hard Rock Bet Sportsbook became available to eligible customers in November 2023. The following month was the launch of in-person sports wagering and expanded gaming at Seminole-owned casinos.
Under the compact, the tribe pledged to pay $2.5 billion to the state over the first five years and potentially billions more during the three-decade deal.