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Lawmakers in Tallahassee on Wednesday approved the biggest tribal casino revenue-share deal in America and legalized sports betting in Florida in the process.
The legislature had called a special session to consider the $2.5 billion deal, thrashed out last month between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the powerful Seminole tribe.
In the end, it was comfortable. The House voted 97-17 to approve the compact, which the Senate had approved Monday by 38-1. Its passage was eased by the fact DeSantis held a threat of veto over hundreds of legislative efforts in the state’s $110 billion budget
Under the terms of the 30-year compact, the tribe will have exclusivity on mobile sports betting, craps, and roulette, none of which were previously legal in Florida. The Seminoles will also be permitted to build three new casinos on their reservation in Hollywood in southeast Florida.
Mobile sports betting will be available throughout the state via apps managed by the tribe.
While the Seminoles are the big winners, they have agreed to one major concession. They will officially withdraw their objection to the state’s 26 pari-mutuel racetracks, jai-alai frontons, and racinos offering player-designated games.
These are designed to ape games like blackjack, over which the Seminoles held exclusivity under the terms of their previous compact.
Thus, the new deal not only puts to bed more than five years of failed talks and legal battles between the tribe and the state, but it also sooths hostilities between the tribe and the pari-mutuel venues.
But legal hurdles remain. First, like all compacts between a tribe and a state, this one has to be signed off on by the federal government, and there is a chance the feds may object.
The compact asserts that a sports bet is “made” not where it is placed, but where it is accepted – in this case, by servers owned by the Seminoles on their reservation. But a federal ruling from 2016 asserted that a bet is made both where it is placed and where it is accepted.
Meanwhile, anti-gambling groups are preparing lawsuits as we speak. They will claim the compact violates Amendment 3.
Amendment 3 was a constitutional amendment passed in 2018 that requires voter approval of all proposed casino gambling expansion in the state. Anti-gambling campaigners will argue that the deal violates this amendment.
Again, it’s a question of where the betting is taking place. Is it in the state of Florida or on the tribe’s sovereign reservation?
Another question that deserves scrutiny is whether sports betting is “casino gambling,” as mentioned in Amendment 3. Certainly, it wasn’t casino gambling when Amendment 3 was devised, because sports betting did not exist in Florida’s casinos at the time.
“This fight is just beginning,” said No Casinos President John Sowinski in a statement Wednesday. “We are committing to ensuring the will of the people, who voted by a 72 [percent] landslide to give Florida voters the exclusive right to authorize casino gambling in our state, will be respected.”
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