TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Legislature convened a special session Monday devoted to the sole question of whether to ratify a gaming compact brokered between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe. For many lawmakers, getting to yes was made significantly easier within minutes of the session being gaveled to order.
What You Need To Know
- The Florida Legislature convened Monday to discuss a gaming compact made between Gov. DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe
- Some lawmakers were hesitant to ratify the compact due to language the left open the possibility of online gambling
- An addendum was added Monday that took out any language concerning online gambling
- If ratified and upheld by the federal government, the 30-year agreement is estimated to result in royalty payments of $2.5 billion in the first five years
While some Republicans had been hesitant to embrace the compact due to language that left open the possibility of tribal-managed online gambling, House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) allayed those concerns with a surprise announcement to his chamber.
"I am holding in my hand an addendum to the Seminole Compact, signed today by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and our governor, Ron DeSantis, which deletes from the compact any and all references to a conversation on statewide online casino gaming in the state of Florida," Sprowls said.
The online gaming component of the compact had been a key talking point for opponents of gaming expansion. The group No Casinos, which sponsored a successful constitutional amendment in 2018 requiring voter referendums for new forms of gambling, took Florida's airwaves two weeks ago to warn Floridians of a potential wave of addiction flowing through smartphones.
The power of that argument has been undercut by Monday's addendum, which was the product of negotiations between the governor and legislative and tribal leaders.
As today’s gaming expansion special legislative session gets underway, @JebBush is weighing in: “At the time when our economy is poised for an unprecedented takeoff...now is not the time to expand casino gambling which will benefit a handful at the expense of many.”— Troy Kinsey (@TroyKinsey) May 17, 2021
If ratified and upheld by the federal government, the 30-year compact would result in tribal royalty payments of $2.5 billion in the first five years, a windfall that would buttress state coffers that are already swelling with billions of dollars in federal stimulus funding.
In exchange for the payments, the Seminoles would be allowed to build new casinos in South Florida and offer sports betting, along with new games including craps and roulette. DeSantis has defended the compact as a means of limiting gaming expansion beyond tribal boundaries.
"We also just trust the Tribe to be the one doing this, rather than stuff that's offshore," he said after signing the deal last month.
Notwithstanding the exclusion of online gambling, however, the compact's critics have taken issue with its other features, including the added games.
"It's the new games that would trigger the need for voter authorization, not the existence of another building," said No Casinos President John Sowinski.
After committee hearings Tuesday, final ratification votes are scheduled for Wednesday.