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Extended Florida session could yield surprise jackpot – a Seminole gaming compact


Focus on the Legislature

By John Haughey | The Center Square

If Florida's legislative session is extended beyond its scheduled March 13 adjournment, House Speaker Jose Oliva said those extra days could produce a bonus: a renewed gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.

But, don’t bet on it, he said.

“We already know we are going to go long” to iron out differences in the Senate’s and House’s proposed budgets, said Oliva, R-Hialeah, adding if an agreement was crafted by the end of next week, “I would not be against” introducing it during the extended session.

Oliva’s comments after the House adjourned Wednesday followed Tuesday’s revelation by Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, that the Seminoles have rejoined the talks for the first time since last fall.

“We have made progress internally, and we are now engaged in negotiations with the Tribe,” Galvano said in a statement.

The Seminoles stopped making monthly payments last May, when their pact with the state expired after lawmakers and Tribe failed to reach an accord over banked card games, control of online gaming and newly legal sports gambling.

The Tribe cited the state’s failure to install “a mechanism to shut down the illegal banked card games,” as ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle in 2016, as the reason for discontinuing revenue-sharing payments – $350 million annually.

Before the pact expired, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and the Tribe reached tentative agreement on a deal through 2050 that would have permitted sports gaming at the Seminoles’ casinos, horse tracks, dog tracks and jai alai frontons, with the Tribe serving as “hub" for an annual payment to the state of $700 million to $750 million.

In January, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, filed House Bill 1195, which he said would renew the Seminole pact and generate $750 million a year for the state’s coffers by ensuring the Tribe would be the only entity that could offer casino-style games – craps, roulette and banked card games such as blackjack and baccarat – in the state. The bill never advanced to committee.

The Legislature’s proposed compact would grant the Seminoles exclusive rights to offer online sports betting, which states are now allowed to regulate after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.

In Florida, however, lawmakers cannot legalize sports gaming after the November 2018 passage of Amendment 3, which requires any “expansion of gambling” be approved by at least 60 percent of voters in a ballot measure.

Amendment 3, largely bankrolled by Disney and the Seminoles, passed with a 71 percent majority and “ensures Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”

The prohibition would not apply to the Seminoles as a Tribe operating on sovereign lands.

DeSantis told reporters Tuesday there is “a good chance” the Galvano-led negotiation team can reach an agreement with the Tribe.

“I hope we get to a deal there,” he said. “But again, I’d rather have a good deal and do it a few days later, or even you can even bring people back potentially, than try to force things under an artificial timeline.”

DeSantis’ comments indicate he would convene a special session on gambling to vet the agreement and adopt the appropriate bills without an “artificial timeline.”

“We are not having that conversation” about a special session, Oliva said, but if a bill was ready for adoption, “I would not be against a special session.”

Ideally, he said, it would be better to have a bill ready for introduction during the extended session, which he said likely would only be needed because state law requires a 72-hour pause between preliminary adoption and final adoption of the budget.

“We go over, say, a day or two to wait” for those 72 hours to pass could be a good time to deliberate a new gaming compact.

It still would be “very difficult for that to happen” by the end of next week, Oliva said.

“I think we want to get to a place where we have a bill that addresses the concerns – the sticking points where it has broken down in the past – rather than roll something out at the end of the session,” he said.


Gaming, Seminole Tribe, The Florida Legislature


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