For now, it’s a happy day at Hard Rock.
The full Florida Legislature Wednesday approved legal sports betting in a gambling deal with the state’s Seminole Tribe — which owns the Hard Rock hotel and casino brand — that promises a $2.5 billion cut over 30 years to state coffers.
If it stands, it’s the biggest gambling expansion in Sunshine State history.
The deal, known as a gaming compact, still must be OK’d by federal regulators in the U.S. Department of Interior to ensure it comports with Indian gambling law. And it may face lawsuits by any number of groups opposed to more gambling in the state.
Among the potential hurdles is whether sports betting should be put before voters under terms of a constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 3, approved by 71% of Florida voters in 2018.
Even a major supporter of the compact called it a good deal for Florida, but one likely to be derailed in coming months, either by a court or the federal government.
“We are not judges, and we are not juries … it’s not even our place to determine if this is legal or not,” said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, in urging House members to support the compact.
He added, though, “Personally, I don’t think this is going to survive.”
“The fight is just beginning,” said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, an anti-gambling expansion group, hinting at a challenge. He also led the campaign that got Amendment 3 on the ballot.
“We are committed to ensuring that the will of the people … will be respected,” he added.
House OK’d deal day after Senate
The House approved the compact 97-17, a day after the Senate endorsed it 38-1.
Wednesday’s House vote ends this week’s special legislative session, called solely to consider the massive deal.
No earlier than Oct. 15, the Seminole Tribe would be the state’s sports bookmaker for in-person casino, online and mobile app wagering.
“Today, all the people of Florida are winners … It is a historic and mutually-beneficial partnership between the State and Seminole Tribe that will positively impact all Floridians for decades to come.”
— Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. on Wednesday’s legislative approval of the gaming compact.
Horse tracks and former dog tracks, as well as jai-alai frontons can enter side deals to offer betting and pull in 60% of the take through their facilities, with the rest going to the tribe. That’s after the state takes a 10% cut off the top.
The tribe also can start offering roulette and craps and continue to deal blackjack at its seven casinos across the state, including its flagship Hard Rock facilities in Tampa and Hollywood. The Hollywood hotel and casino now features a 34-level guitar-shaped hotel, part of a $1.5 billion expansion completed in 2019.
What dropped out of the deal earlier this week, at the insistence of House GOP leadership, was a provision to allow the tribe after three years to negotiate for even more online and mobile games, such as smartphone slots.
In addition to approving the compact, worked out between Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and tribal leaders, lawmakers also passed several changes to state gambling law.
Lawmakers eligible to apply for new statewide gambling commission
Among the biggest is establishing a new Florida Gaming Control Commission, a five-member panel appointed by DeSantis that will regulate gambling in the state that takes place off tribal lands, focused heavily on pari-mutuels.
State lawmakers now are eligible for the job after the House and Senate stripped out a provision that would have required they wait at least two years after leaving office before being appointed.
Along with the compact, lawmakers approved a measure that allow horse tracks – except for Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs – to end live racing, with slot machines, card rooms and apparently soon, sports betting, pulling in better money. Dog tracks have already “de-coupled” from live racing in Florida under a constitutional amendment passed in 2018.
Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, fought to keep live racing at a harness track in Pompano Park. But the effort failed.
“Let’s not kill the racing industry in this state,” Geller said.
The compact also allows pari-mutuels to sell or transfer their permits to another facility – without violating the compact as long as they are no less than 15 miles away from a tribal property.
The Trump National Doral resort and the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, both in Miami-Dade County, already are being talked of as possible casino locations. But lawmakers guiding the compact said such moves would still have to independently win approval from the Legislature.
The compact would replace one signed in 2010 by then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democratic member of Congress challenging DeSantis in next year’s governor’s race.
The tribe in 2019 stopped making roughly $350 million in annual payments to the state, after a federal court ruled Florida had violated the Seminoles’ exclusive right to offer banked card games, like blackjack, by not stopping designated-player games at pari-mutuel facilities.
Supreme Court opened door to sports betting
A U.S. Supreme Court decision three years ago opened the door to sports betting beyond the limits of Nevada and with it, untold billions of gambling dollars it could generate.
More than 20 states now offer some kind of sports betting. But to sidestep the voter-approved Amendment 3, requiring casino expansion to go before voters, the compact forged by DeSantis grants the Seminole Tribe the right to host sports betting at its seven casinos, and add three more on tribal property in coming years.
The Seminole Tribe, a sovereign nation, is exempt from the requirements of Amendment 3 as long as its “casino gambling (is) on tribal lands.”
Later Wednesday, DeSantis said “the breakdown of the 2010 compact has denied the state of Florida any revenue derived from the Seminole Tribe’s ongoing gaming operations — including what is the most profitable casino in the United States, located in Hillsborough County,” referring to the Hard Rock in Tampa.
“This changes today,” he added. “With this new compact, the state will now see a large stream of reoccurring revenue to the tune of billions of dollars over the next few years. The deal will also create over 2,000 jobs.”
What betting is currently legal in Florida? Before things (possibly) change, here’s what you can and can’t legally bet on now
John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport. Reach Jim Rosica at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JimRosicaFL.
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