Gambling opponents rally as lawmakers vote on deal with Seminole Tribe

Gambling opponents from across the state rallied Tuesday at the Florida Capitol.
Gambling opponents from across the state rallied Tuesday at the Florida Capitol. (Capitol News Service)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gambling opponents from across the state rallied Tuesday at the Florida Capitol, speaking out against the new Seminole Compact awaiting approval from the Legislature.

They argued that the deal allowing gambling at the tribe’s facilities is unconstitutional and must go before voters.

The proposed compact with the Seminole Tribe brought one of the largest gatherings of Floridians to the Capitol since the start of the pandemic.

But they didn’t come to show support.

“We do not want to be the destination casino state,” said John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Action.

The gambling opponents call the deal an expansion of gaming, which under a 2018 constitutional amendment requires voter approval.

“It was a law to bind the hands of the very legislators that are now ignoring that,” Stemberger said.

The main constitutional issue highlighted by gambling opponents is the fact that under the compact Floridians would be permitted to place sports bets on their phones, even if they’re not technically on tribal land.

Opponents also make the case that while the extra $500 million a year to the state might sound appealing, they say it’s the poor who will pick up the tab.

“To make the kind of money that’s going to be churning here you have to have a whole lot of losers,” said Bill Bunkley, president of the Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The opponents broke off after the rally to bring their message directly to their elected leaders.

“This is not just for the protection of me and her, but it’s families that are out there that are struggling and the last thing we need to do is put them further down,” said Nathaniel Bloodgood, who traveled from Tampa with his wife to lobby lawmakers.

The coalition is focusing on the Florida House, where they believe there may be a chance to kill the deal.

“And I think if enough Democrats and Republicans peel off and are just willing to stand alone and say, Mr. Speaker, we don’t want this, I think we can stop this thing,” said Stemberger.

The governor has argued that because any sports betting in pari-mutuel facilities or online will be run through servers on tribal land, the gaming compact does not expand gambling in Florida.

Earlier in the day representatives from the tribe made it clear, even if the sports betting aspect of the compact is found to be unconstitutional, payments to the state will continue.