Battle lines drawn ahead of Florida legislative gaming session

TALLAHASSEE – Lawmakers may have left for home after wrapping up the 2021 legislative session, but they are already planning to be back in the Capitol in two weeks.

They’ll spend up to a week debating a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. Campaigns for and against the gaming deal are underway.

On the final day of session, Gov. DeSantis teased the deal while touting the record $101.5 billion state budget. The governor has said the deal will bring in $6 billion to the state of Florida by 2030.

A new ad by the tribe also pitches the deal as a win for the economy.

One of the biggest items in the compact is the legalization of sports betting.

“The pari-mutuels can contract with out-of-state clients to run the back end, but everything goes back to the tribe. The tribe can also contract with out of state to get that done,” sad State Sen. Travis Hutson, who has spent years working on gambling legislation.

The deal also allows the tribe to offer craps and roulette.

Any product lawmakers agree on is sure to be challenged by anti-gambling groups, who are already arguing the new compact constitutes an expansion of gaming and has to be approved by voters.

“If Amendment 3 wasn’t designed to stop something like this, the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida history, then what did voters mean by it exactly?” said John Sowinski, who authored the Voter Approval of Casino Gambling constitutional amendment.

Lawmakers believe because any new gaming will run through the sovereign Seminole Nation, the 2018 constitutional amendment doesn’t apply.

“I hear there’s an Oklahoma case that’s very similar that has gone through the federal process. So I think we’re on solid ground,” said Hutson.

Lawmakers have slated five days to work on the gaming issue and it’s possible they’ll finish even sooner. However, any legal challenges to the Gaming Compact aren’t likely to be resolved with such haste.