Florida Lawmakers Call Session to Consider $2.5 Billion Seminole Gambling Deal
By Space Coast Daily // May 27, 2021
Last month, it was fist bumps all round in the Florida corridors of power, as State Governor and rising star for the Republican Presidential ticket in 2024, Ron DeSantis reached an historic agreement with the Seminole tribe on new gambling rules.
Behind the smiles, there were concerns, however, as that agreement means nothing until it is signed off by the State Legislature.
Nobody can accuse lawmakers of being tardy in their response, as they agreed to reconvene in mid-May for a special session to discuss the $2.5 billion deal. It’s one that has been five years in the making.
The next sports betting domino to fall?
Gambling in Florida is currently permitted in tribal-operated casinos, at racinos and in card rooms. But it is subject to various limitations. Certain games, including craps and roulette, are prohibited, there is no sports betting other than limited horse races and harness races from trackside and there’s no placing wagers using online platforms or mobile apps. All these points could soon change if the deal goes through.
The introduction of sports betting is the biggest change. It’s a topic that has seldom been out of the headlines across the entirety of the United States in the three years since the US Supreme Court struck down PASPA, and one state after another has made the decision to initiate legislative reform. There are now more than two dozen states that offer sports betting of one kind or another, and it was always going to be a case of when, not if, Florida would join them.
Whether that time is now alll depended on what was to happen behind closed doors at the State Legislature, but it is fair to say that the timing is propitious. Events of the past 12 months have left most states grappling with eye-watering deficits. But that’s especially the case in those that rely heavily on tourism. In Florida, the figure stands at an estimated $2.75 billion, so penning a deal that would bring a guaranteed $500 million per year to state coffers is clearly something that nobody will be inclined to dismiss offhand.
Online bets off the table
The proposed bill initially sought to open up the possibility for commercial casino operators and online sports book partnerships to offer online sports betting and online casino games as depicted on casinosenpai.com. Over the past year or two, this has become the elephant in the room as far as gambling regulation in the Sunshine State is concerned.
Placing bets online, from either a desktop or more commonly these days, from a mobile app is big business. It has become even bigger over the past 12 months, with the various lockdown measures and trading restrictions on land-based facilities. The law states that online casino gaming and sports betting is prohibited, but what does that really mean? Only that Florida-based operators cannot offer this facility and the state cannot gather any tax revenue from the activity.
In practical terms, the internet cares little for state or even national boundaries. Individuals are not breaking any laws by using offshore or out-of-state online betting platforms, and all that’s happening is that the state is effectively hemorrhaging millions in tax dollars. It’s a challenge that other states, as well as nations across the world, have been forced to confront, and there are only two choices. To either take a King Canute approach and try to stop the tide by preventing Floridians from engaging with these online sites, or to introduce a regulatory framework for online casino gaming and sports betting.
However, this proved to be a step too far, and on the first day of discussions, it was made clear that Florida lawmakers are not ready to consider online betting, however compelling the arguments might sound. This means that hopes for collaborations with the likes of FanDuel and DraftKings, who are already actively working with more than a dozen other state regulators to provide online sports betting, will return to the long-term wish list for the foreseeable future.
Expanding casino gaming – in size and scope
The third aspect of the new gambling deal will contemplate the shape and size of gambling in Florida for the years ahead. Right now, if you walk into one of the seven tribal casinos in the state, it will not look so different to a casino in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. There are the hundreds of slot games, the card tables where you can play blackjack or baccarat, and video poker terminals by the dozen.
However, look a little closer and two of the most iconic symbols of a traditional casino are conspicuous by their absence. Roulette and craps are typically the two games that generate the most excitement and they tend to attract the fun-loving casino goers more than the serious gamblers. For years, these have been excluded by law from Florida casinos, for reasons that have never been entirely clear.
Again, it was always likely to be a question of when, as opposed to if, this situation would change, and that seems set to happen as part of the legislative reform currently under debate. It’s unlikely that the approval of these games will present an obstacle, but proposed expansion in terms of size, as well as scope, could prove more controversial.
This part of the deal will allow the Seminoles to construct up to three new casinos on sovereign land. It doesn’t take a planning genius to work out that the most likely locations would include Tampa and Hollywood, with Brighton a good bet for the third. It would also allow them to partner with major industry players such as MGM Resorts and Las Vegas Sands.
This kind of expansion is a whole lot more significant that adding a few extra games to existing facilities, and some backlash will be inevitable, even if the bill passes through the legislature. There are, in other words, plenty more chapters to come in this tale. For the moment, we can only watch and await the next development.