Tribal Gaming Operators and Florida’s Political Life

By  //  May 20, 2019

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The Seminole tribes have always enjoyed a considerable leeway when it comes to casinos operation. Following in the footsteps of the Mohegan, the Seminole have been scaling their offer in a bid to expand well beyond their local bastions. (Image for Space Coast Daily)

Florida isn’t the most gambling-friendly state. What local businesses exist are held by the so-called Seminole Tribe, the indigenous Native American population that holds exclusive rights on all things gambling.

While gambling-averse lawmakers have for years dominated Florida’s political life, Seminole-owned properties have always been exempted from sanctions. Some small-time card rooms and horse racing tracks have been trying to operate against opposition from tribal operators.

Seminole and Florida Ink a Landmark Deal

The Seminole tribes have always enjoyed a considerable leeway when it comes to casinos operation. Following in the footsteps of the Mohegan, the Seminole have been scaling their offer in a bid to expand well beyond their local bastions.

To operate in relative calmness, though, the Seminole knew that a bargain needed to be struck with Florida’s lawmakers. This is why a Gaming Compact deal was inked back in 2009, allowing the tribes to run their operations at peace while paying a part of their revenue back to the state’s coffers.

The deal has been most beneficial for the state, enjoying $340 million in net contributions annually. With the compact having expired in 2015, the Seminole have been running their businesses on the basis of an unbinding agreement with the state rather than a deal.

Both Florida and the tribes need and expect a concrete and legally-binding deal to continue relying on each other without fear of legal repercussions at the change of the administration for example. The topic has proven so divisive that Florida had to prepare its next budget installment without accounting for any payments from the Seminole.

However, Florida Governor Ron Desantis has set out to rectify the situation by initiating a number of high-profile meetings.

Governor Ron Desantis Seeks a Solution

In April, 2019, Governor Desantis met with a number of high-profile business figures from Florida. Mr. Desantis sat down with Chairman Marcellus Osceola, CEO of Seminole Gaming Jim Allen,and Seminoles’ general counsel Jim Shore.

The Seminoles are indeed the ones that need additional reassurance as the tribes have been touchy with the subject of facing legal challenges. Meanwhile, the Seminoles have initiated litigation against player-banked games which the tribe has claimed violates their exclusivity over certain gambling verticals, including poker.

The case has taken on a considerable importance in Florida where the Seminole tribe has been heavily investing against private gambling businesses, leading the charge against big brands alongside Disney.

To balance out the issue, Gov. Desantis has also met with dog-and horse-track owners, poker establishment representatives and horse breeders. The main question that needs to be addressed is not just poker, on which reported extensively, but also whether the Seminole can get the the go-ahead with sports betting.

The player-designed games constitute the bulk of proceedings for many establishments, especially insofar as card rooms go. To acknowledge that these businesses have been breaking the law would mean to shut them down – something that would appeal to the Seminoles as a matter of fact.

However, Desantis skilled diplomacy wants to take all parties involved on a course where they can co-exist peacefully instead of drawing daggers. If Desantis manages to draw Seminole’s attention to other prominent verticals, the tribes may be happy to let this one slide.

A Country for Old Dogs – Sports Betting in Florida

Despite their strict no-no approach towards gambling and sports betting, the Seminole are finally becoming aware that their stubbornness might actually be costing them a fair bit. After the federal ban prohibiting sports betting was defeated in May, 2018, multiple states have begun expanding their wagering operations.

Florida, long-time opposed to gambling, other than the comfortable deal with the Seminole Tribes, is now cozying up to the idea of allowing sports betting to develop in the state. Tribes are now genuinely interested in offering in-play betting and even casino-style betting and gaming.

Meanwhile, another critic of gambling and sports betting, Disney, has launched a sports betting show through ESPN, a subsidiary. “The Daily Wager” is dedicated to analyzing odds, event outcomes and bets. The American Gaming Association (AGA) recently stated that the United States is going to be the second-largest betting market by 2030, right behind China where the activity is almost entirely banned.

A New Compact Deal Will Be Reached

With Desantis skilled diplomacy, only one outcome is possible for the future of Florida gambling. The Tribes will enter sports betting and a new compact will be signed. In light of fresh proceedings for the tribal operators, card rooms will be given some slack and allowed to push on with player-banked games.

However, the main challenge that lies for private businesses is that they would remain susceptible to legal attacks and lobbying from the tribes. One day Desantis will have to step out of office and the newcomer may not be so keen on gambling at all.

The Seminole Tribes, on the other hand, are exempted from any interference by the federal government, as the properties they own are on their ancestral grounds giving them a free pass. Conversely, if private businesses want to scale their operations, they would need a referendum which would cost money and it would also be faced by hard lobbying by Disney and the Seminole Tribes.

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