Florida Gaming Compact Passes Senate Committee, But Stripped of Online Gaming

Posted on: May 17, 2021, 01:41h. 

Last updated on: May 17, 2021, 03:38h.

The Florida tribal gaming compact Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) reached with the Seminole Tribe last month has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. But the bill has been amended and its online gaming components stripped.

Florida gaming compact Seminole online casino
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talks with reporters late last month. The state legislature is currently reviewing and amending his Class III gaming compact he reached with the Seminole Tribe. (Image: USA Today)

In April, DeSantis and the Seminoles announced that they had come to “historic” terms to allow the tribe to operate sports betting in-person and online, internet slot machines and table games, and build new casinos on the tribes’ sovereign land. The Florida Legislature is amid a special session this week to consider the Class III gaming contract.

Just hours into the special session, House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater) announced that iGaming had been removed from the compact. 

“In my discussions with our [legislative] members, I realized many shared the same concern as — that some language in the compact could be construed to lead to the backdoor expansion of online gaming. Even the mere possibility of this was unacceptable, and therefore, Chairman Renner, Chairman Fine, and I engaged directly with the Seminole Tribe on this issue,” Sprowls said.

Compact Amended

Under the original terms that DeSantis and Seminoles agreed upon, after 36 months of the new compact being ratified, the state and tribe were to “engage in good faith negotiations … to consider an amendment to authorize the Tribe to offer all types of Covered Games online or via mobile devices to players physically located in the State.”

The compact legally required that the iGaming servers be located on sovereign land owned by the tribe. However, DeSantis and Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola today signed an amendment to their 2021 Gaming Compact that removes the internet gaming section.

What hasn’t changed are the financial terms the Seminoles must adhere to during the compact’s 30-year term. The tribe must pay the state a minimum of $2.5 billion over the next five years, and then share part of their annual gaming revenue that is expected to exceed $500 million a year. 

Seminoles Confirm Discussions

During the first day of the special legislative session regarding the gaming compact, Seminole brass informed Florida lawmakers that they’re in discussions with several leading sportsbook providers, including DraftKings, FanDuel, and Barstool Sports.

Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and the tribe’s Hard Rock International brand, said the tribe is interested in creating relationships with each of those sportsbooks. 

The compact allows the Seminoles to conduct sports betting at their six land-based casinos. The DeSantis/Seminole compact additionally allows pari-mutuel card clubs and racinos to partner with the tribe to offer sportsbook services at their venues.

Mobile sports betting was initially included in the compact, but the dismissal of the iGaming language will likely eliminate remote sports wagering. At issue is Amendment 3, approved in 2018 by voters, that gives the power to state residents — not lawmakers — to determine any expansion of gambling in the state.

Critics of the compact said mobile sports betting and online casinos violate Amendment 3. DeSantis and the Seminoles initially argued that since the iGaming servers would be based on sovereign land, it doesn’t. However, they seemingly conceded the internet gaming component today with the compact change. 

Amendment 3 is expected to be the focus of continued talks regarding the compact throughout the rest of the special session. For the compact to become fully authorized, it must pass the Florida Legislature, receive DeSantis’ signature, and then be ratified by the US Department of the Interior.