Florida-Seminole Compact Deal That Would Authorize Sports Betting Now on Life Support, Lawmakers Say

Posted on: April 30, 2019, 12:47h. 

Last updated on: April 30, 2019, 02:06h.

An ambitious political gambit to bring sports betting to Florida while resolving a compact impasse between the state and the powerful Seminole tribal operator is dead in the water, according to multiple sources who spoke to Florida Politics Monday evening.

House Speaker José Oliva said there has been progress, and the process could made headway next year — but the legislature could also be missing out on the biggest revenue-sharing deal in US history. Again. (Image: YouTube)

One lawmaker who asked to remain anonymous told FP the push was “99 percent dead.”

With the legislative session ending this Friday, House Speaker José Oliva (R-110th) said lawmakers simply ran out of time. He added that he is not in favor of calling a special session.

Last week, it was reported that a draft compact deal was in the hands of Governor Ron DeSantis following several weeks of negotiations between the tribe and Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-10th).

Sources said the deal would have granted the Seminoles the right to offer sports betting, roulette, and craps at their seven Hard Rock casinos in Florida, while the state’s numerous pari-mutuel tracks would become “affiliates,” with the right to host sports betting kiosks of which the Seminoles would take a cut.

The Seminoles have been without a compact since 2015 but have continued to share revenues of $350 million per year with Florida under a temporary deal agreed with former Governor Rick Scott.

The new draft deal was rumored to be worth $400 million per year to the state for the next 31 years, possibly rising to $500 million over time. It would have been the biggest revenue-sharing deal between a state and a tribal operator in the US.

Billions at Stake

The state is under more pressure than the tribe to sign a new compact. Payments were jeopardized by a 2016 federal court judgment that ruled the state had violated the original compact because it had allowed the pari-mutels to operate so-called player-designated games. These infringed on the Seminole’s exclusivity on banked games, like blackjack.

The judge ruled the tribe had the right to offer banked games without a compact — and without making revenue-share payments — until 2030.

The tribe continues to make payments in good faith and under the proviso that the state robustly polices player-designated games at the pari-mutuels.

The new deal was thought to include substantial changes to the kinds of games the pari-mutuel tracks would be able to offer, a move that could substantially reduce their revenues.

But it was hoped the tracks would accept the changes in return for sports betting and the right to “decouple,” which means they would no longer be required to offer a quota of racing or jai alai each year, a commitment that is unprofitable for many.

Governor Gambling Summit

Things began to look promising when Governor DeSantis initiated discussions between the state’s various gaming stakeholders at a summit on Friday. Hopes were raised when Barbara Havenick of the Magic City Casino told the Florida News Service it was “the first time since I’ve been involved that he’s gotten this whole group together.”

There’s never been a time that the industry’s been together and hasn’t wanted to kill itself,” she added.

Oliva said that the push may now be dead, but progress had been made and there was hope for next year, although next year may be too late.

In 2016, Scott negotiated a new compact with the Seminoles that would have been worth $3 billion to the state over seven years but it was rejected by the legislature, just months before the federal court ruling handed the Seminole’s the upper hand.

Asked Monday by Florida Politics whether the tribe planned to cease paying hundreds of millions to the state in good faith, a Seminole spokesperson replied simply, “not commenting tonight.”