Florida Gaming Interests Prepping for 2022 Legislative War

Posted on: August 11, 2021, 02:34h. 

Last updated on: August 11, 2021, 02:50h.

Florida and its Seminole Tribe reached a new Class III gaming compact earlier this year. Among the expanded gaming is sports betting, and the first legal wager might be placed as early as October 15.

Florida gaming compact Seminole Tribe DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is all smiles earlier this year after announcing the state and Seminole Tribe reached new gaming terms. But that Class III gaming compact is expected to be the subject of much litigation and political jockeying in the coming years. (Image: Twitter)

Led by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (D), the state came to new terms with the powerful tribe in April. The US Department of the Interior (DOI) has the final say on Class III gaming arrangements between federally recognized Native American tribes and state governments. It allowed Florida’s updated contract to go forward without explicitly approving it.   

The compact was published on the federal registrar today, August 11. The notice included a brief summary of the gaming expansion from Bryan Newland, principal deputy assistant secretary of the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“[DOI] took no action on the Compact between the Tribe and the State. Therefore, the Compact is considered to have been approved, but only to the extent it is consistent with IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act],” Newland explained.

IGRA sets the legal framework for governing gaming on Indian lands. But in Florida, some say the state and DeSantis violated the will of the people and unlawfully authorized new forms of gaming. It’s a challenge that is only just beginning.

Legal Contentions

In 2018, 71 percent of Floridians supported a referendum that stripped state lawmakers of their power to decide on new forms of gambling. The Florida Constitution today mandates that expanded casino offerings be approved through a statewide ballot amendment.

Along with sports betting, Florida’s 2021 Seminole compact allows the tribe’s casinos to offer roulette and craps.

The new games were approved by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year in open defiance of a constitutional amendment passed in 2018 that says voters must approve new casino games, not lawmakers,” read an op-ed this week from the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board.

The news outlet is calling on political action committee (PAC) Voters in Charge, which led the successful 2018 amendment campaign, to challenge the state.

“We hope they come out with legal briefs blazing, and soon,” the op-ed continued. “Politicians who don’t respect the will of the votes need to be taught a lesson through the courts.”

2022 Ballot Initiatives

Even if Voters in Charge or another opponent to the Seminoles’ latest compact don’t prevail, gaming expansion in Florida will remain a hot topic in the years ahead. Several PACs have recently formed that seek to place ballot referendums before voters in 2022.

Rivals DraftKings and FanDuel have united to the tune of $20 million behind a PAC called Florida Education Champions. The committee is pushing an amendment to open the state’s sports betting market — currently reserved only for the Seminole Tribe — to other operators.

Also in the mix is Las Vegas Sands. One of the world’s largest casino operators, Sands has given $17 million to Florida Voters in Charge, a group seeking to authorize commercial casinos in the state.

The Seminole Tribe, of course, won’t be undefended. The Native American group has already set aside $10 million to defend opposition to its new gaming privileges.