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Seminole Indians Sign a Huge Florida Gambling Deal


By Chloe Wilson

Gambling is both big news and big business in the uncertain new world of 2021. No longer just restricted to the Las Vegas Strip and the Mississippi river boats, the historic decision by the US Supreme Court to strike down PASPA in 2018 has led to a wholesale re-evaluation of gambling laws across all but a handful of US states.

Gambling in Florida

For the past 40 years or so, Florida has been something of a special case. When the revenue generated from the Seminole tribe’s smoke shops started to decline in the late 1970s, the tribal elders decided to open a bingo hall on the Hollywood reservation near Fort Lauderdale. Bingo was, after all, legal in the state of Florida. However, state officials almost choked on their daiquiris when they saw the $25,000 jackpots on offer – the state limit was just $100.

The ensuing lawsuit demonstrated that the state could not regulate how a legal activity was conducted on reservation land. This distinction was critical, and soon, reservation casinos started to appear, offering high-stakes versions of other games like poker as soon as the games themselves were legalized under state law.

So it was that gambling in Florida became an activity almost entirely operated and regulated by the Seminole tribe on reservation land. Successive compacts and agreements with the state have strengthened that position. But with the latest deal, it can reasonably be said that the Seminoles have hit the jackpot.

A 30-year deal

The new deal can trace its roots back to 2007, when tribal elders first negotiated an agreement with Charlie Crist, the State Governor of the time. The Seminole casinos would have exclusive rights to host slots, blackjack and baccarat games, while in return, the state would receive a slice of the revenue. The arrangement was controversial from the outset, and it finally collapsed in 2019. The Seminoles stopped paying, claiming the state was doing nothing to prevent pari-mutuels within the state from providing these games, thereby breaching the exclusivity agreement.

Ever since, the Seminoles, the lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis, have been eager to thrash out a new deal. A few weeks ago, they signed a compact that will give the Seminoles complete control of sports betting within the state for the next 30 years. Crucially, this includes online sports bets and those placed using mobile apps. In what is known as a “spokes and hub” arrangement, bettors can place wagers using their cell phones from anywhere in the state. The bet is considered to have been made on reservation land, as this is where the servers are located.

The new agreement will also iron out some peculiarities of current Florida gambling laws by allowing the tribal casinos to offer roulette and craps. Despite being among the most popular casino games in the world, these are still prohibited in Florida, and right now, you will not see them in any of the state’s casinos.

"This is a huge win for Seminoles who are already ranked within the top three tribes in terms of gross gaming revenue within the US territory." commented industry expert Heidi Allan from NoDepositFan. There’s no doubt that the Seminoles will benefit financially, and state coffers stand to be boosted to the tune of at least $20 billion between now and 2050. The move will also be welcomed by millions of sports fans, for whom placing a bet is all part of the experience when it comes to enjoying pro sport. However, the arrangement also has its detractors.

Preparing for the lawsuits

In early August, the first important deadline arrived, when the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs allowed the 45 day review period since the signing of the deal to lapse without stepping in. However, this tacit approval by the Biden administration doesn’t mean that it is all calm seas ahead. At least two Florida pari-mutuels have already filed federal lawsuits, and protesters have galvanized around pressure group No Casinos, which is led by John Sowinski.

Sowinski claims the deal “violates several federal laws as well as the Florida constitution” and insists that gambling cannot and will not be expanded in Florida without being put to a public vote. This is a step that DeSantis and the Seminoles have tried to side-step, as previous referenda have shown a majority view that is not in favor of gambling.

Two pari mutuels, Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, have been leading the attack, filing against U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in the federal courts of Washington and simultaneously suing Governor DeSantis in the US District Court in Tallahassee. The Seminoles have weighed in in both cases, lending support and backing to both Haaland and DeSantis.

It is fair to assume that the legal wheels will continue to turn for the foreseeable future. It’s a lucrative time to be a lawyer, but ultimately there is a sense that the wind is only blowing in one direction. Even if the detractors get their way and the expansion of gambling is put to the public vote, it is a very different world today than it was 10 years ago. Mobile sports betting is simply not seen as a big deal today. It seems that any lawsuits will at most delay the inevitable result that mobile sports betting will arrive in Florida, and the Seminoles will be central to its coordination.

Betting, Casinos, entertainment, gambling, Governor Ron DeSantis, history, Online, Seminole Tribe, sports


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