Tribal Gaming

Seminoles Near ‘Historic’ Expanded Gaming Deal with Florida, Add Sports Bets And More

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has reached a deal with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to expand its Class III gaming compact privileges. The Florida Legislature, however, must first sign off on the contract.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fist bumps legislators last month before delivering his State of the State address. The governor has come to terms with the Seminole Tribe to expand gambling. (Image: AP)

The headline is that DeSantis and the powerful tribe have reached a deal to legalize sports betting. The agreement would allow the tribe’s six casinos across the state to incorporate sportsbooks into their facilities. They can also operate online sports betting through partnerships with interactive providers like DraftKings and FanDuel.

Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. called it an “historic agreement that cements our partnership with the state for decades to come.”

The state’s pari-mutuel card clubs and racinos would additionally be permitted to partner with online sportsbooks to benefit from sports betting.

DeSantis in March told the racinos and pari-mutuel tracks and jai alai facilities that his administration was “getting close” to striking a sports betting deal with the Seminoles. But the governor, who is becoming a leading 2024 presidential candidate for the Republican Party, said he was negotiating on behalf of the Florida people and not the tribe.

More Than Sports Betting

The proposed agreement between DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe includes much more than just sports betting. In fact, if the legislature and US Interior Department approve the plan, the new tribal-state pact could open up Florida to commercial casino operators.

Under DeSantis’ deal, the Seminoles would be permitted to build up to three new casinos on their sovereign land. The odds-on favorites for such facilities would be in Tampa, Hollywood, and Brighton.

The gaming expansion compact terms would allow the tribe to partner with companies such as Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts, and Wynn Resorts to manage the casino and resort’s operations.

Clock Ticking

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) requires that Class III gaming compacts between the governor and federally recognized tribe receive approval from the state’s legislature. And in Florida, there’s only a week remaining for the 2021 legislative session.

Lawmakers say they will work hard to put the governor and tribe’s terms on paper and pass the new compact. If they fail to do so, House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) says a special session is likely to be called.

If the Republican-controlled legislature sends the approved gaming compact to DeSantis’ desk and he signs, as expected, the document would go to the Interior Department for final approval.

However, there are some concerns that Florida voters must sign off on any new approved gambling game, such as sports betting, through a ballot referendum.

“Our position is that sports betting is subject to amendment, and for any of the folks who wanted to say otherwise, they are arguing with themselves, not us,” said John Sowinski of No Casinos in Florida, a watchdog group that opposes further expansion of gambling.

Devin O'Connor

Gaming Legislation, Politics, Casino Business, Entertainment----Devin O’Connor’s passion for politics and background in the world of pop culture television give him insight into the gaming industry backstories that often drive news these days. After graduating from Penn State University with a theater arts degree, he worked at MTV Networks/Viacom from 2005 to 2010 as a writer and producer, where his credits included Total Request Live, New Year's Eve specials, and a special featuring poker superstar Daniel Negreanu. He later moved on to the HGTV/DIY Network, where he created, wrote, and produced three series specials: That's So House Hunters, That's So 80s, and That's So 90s. Devin came on board with Casino.org in 2014. He lives in Pennsylvania, and is an avid marathoner, having completed 15 races to date. Email: devin.oconnor@casino.org

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Devin O'Connor