Poll Concludes Florida Voters Want Say in Seminole Gaming Expansion

Posted on: May 5, 2021, 10:58h. 

Last updated on: May 5, 2021, 11:30h.

A new poll finds that a majority of Florida voters want a say on whether the state should allow the Seminole Tribe to expand its gaming privileges.

Florida gaming expansion DeSantis Seminole
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signs new Class III gaming terms as Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. looks on. A poll, however, finds voters in the state want to weigh in on the refreshed gaming terms. (Image: News Service of Florida)

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Seminole Tribe inked a deal that amounts to the largest expansion of gambling in the Sunshine State in decades.

Under the new Class III gaming compact terms, the tribe would be permitted to have sports betting online, craps, roulette, and sports betting at its brick-and-mortar casinos, and the Native American group would be allowed to build as many as three new casinos on sovereign land.

DeSantis and the Seminole’s deal needs approval from the state legislature. If that happens, DeSantis would sign the official document, and then the compact would be sent to the US Department of the Interior for final ratification. 

However, some lawmakers believe the state must obtain approval from voters in order to authorize online gaming. 

Floridians Seek Input

Almost immediately after DeSantis and the tribe announced the gaming expansion compact, legal critics questioned the validity of the internet betting component. Florida law requires that all Class III gaming only be conducted on the Seminoles’ sovereign land. Class III gaming includes slot machines, table games, and sports betting.

Mobile sports betting, opponents say, violates that condition. Proponents say since the sports betting servers would be required to be located on sovereign land, that isn’t true.

A poll of 800 likely voters in Florida finds that 76 percent surveyed believe they should have the final say on not only the mobile sports betting topic — but the entire new Class III compact. Just 13 percent said they support allowing the Florida Legislature and DeSantis to determine the new gaming terms. 

In 2018, Floridians backed a ballot referendum that altered the state constitution to give the people power to determine the future of gambling.

“Floridians spoke loud in clear in 2018 when they voted in a landslide for Amendment 3 to put gambling in Florida in the hands of Floridians instead of gambling lobbyists and politicians. This poll shows they feel as strongly about that as ever and clearly understand this new agreement violates the letter and spirit of that Amendment,” declared John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, an organization that opposes further gambling expansion in Florida. 

The poll also asked whether the DeSantis and Seminole treaty “is blatantly unconstitutional.” Sixty-six percent said “yes.” Only 15 percent said “no.”

DeSantis Defends

Jim McLaughlin and Rob Schmidt, who conducted the gaming poll, say many Floridians are concerned regarding the state’s legal authority to authorize online sports betting.

“Most voters believe the compact’s predicate, that having the computer system hub that hosts online gambling on tribal property constitutes gambling as being on tribal lands does not pass the ‘smell test,'” explained McLaughlin Rob Schmidt.

The governor, however, says some are simply delaying the inevitable, and that online sports betting is already occurring in the state through unlawful offshore sites.

“This [mobile sports betting] is operated by the Tribe, operated on tribal lands, and I think it satisfies Amendment 3,'” DeSantis stated. “If somebody wants to contest that, both the Tribe and the state will be defending the agreement.”