TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sports betting in Florida is a step closer to legalization after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday approving a gambling agreement signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe.
The bill that was passed 38-1 also would allow the tribe to add roulette and craps to its casinos, including the popular Hard Rock facilities near Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. In return, the state would be expected to receive an estimated $20 billion over the 30-year compact.
The bill will now go to the House, which will vote on it Wednesday. The Legislature held a special session to consider the agreement a little more than two weeks after ending their annual 60-day session.
“I believe this is a good deal. I believe this is a great deal, actually,” said Republican Sen. Travis Hutson. “This compact is going to bring in billions of dollars that we can use however we want to, either to plug budget holes, or to work on education, or health care, or more resiliency, or more septic to sewer, or making our beaches ready for hurricanes.”
A few senators voted for the compact even after arguing that the state could have gotten a better deal.
“Good deal or bad deal, it’s still the deal we have on the table and I can’t in good conscience turn down the money,” said Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo.
The only “no” vote came from Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who opposed the idea of giving the tribe a monopoly on sports betting.
“Sometimes things are about more than money,” Brandes said. “It’s about the principles that you and I represent. It’s about open and free markets that we believe in, and it’s ultimately about not doing business with just one vendor.”
The biggest debate was over an arbitrary prohibition of any new casino within 165 miles of the Tribe’s Hollywood Hard Rock. The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach and Trump’s Doral Resort about 15 miles away.
If approved by the House and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling operations, the tribe can begin sports betting Oct. 15. and operate sports wagering at horse tracks, jai-alai frontons and former dog tracks for a share of the income. Online sports betting operated by the tribe also would be allowed.
Florida’s original compact with the Seminoles gave the tribe exclusive rights to slot machines and blackjack. In exchange, the tribe paid the state several billion dollars — which all but dried up after it expired in 2015 .
The new compact would guarantee the state $2.5 billion over the next five years and an estimated $6 billion by 2030.
Among other bills passed by the Senate would create a gaming commission to regulate pari-mutuels and investigate illegal gambling in the state.
The Senate also approved a bill that would allow jai alai frontons, dog tracks and a harness racing track in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to keep operating slots and card rooms without holding live events. Other pari-mutuels in the state would be able to continue operating card rooms without live events, with the exception of thoroughbred horse tracks, which would have to hold live racing.