Florida, Seminoles Can’t Agree On Compact
The Florida legislature adjourned on Friday, May 3, without finalizing a gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. One lawmaker who request anonymity said the deal was “99 percent dead.”
House Speaker José Oliva said, “Gambling is a comprehensive subject, and I think by the time some agreement was reached, it was a bit late in session and so we’ll have to take it up again next year. I think we simply ran out of time. We’re starting to meet with stakeholders again to really have an understanding of what that should look like next year if it does come back, but it’s too early to say.”
The tribe has operated without a compact since 2015.
Governor Ron DeSantis was said to be reviewing a draft compact negotiated by state Senator Wilton Simpson and the tribe. It would have been worth $400 million a year to the state over 31 years, possibly increasing to $500 million over time. The deal also would have granted the Seminoles the right to offer sports betting, roulette and craps at their seven Hard Rock casinos in Florida. The state’s parimutuel tracks would have become “affiliates,” with the Seminoles taking a cut of revenue from sports betting kiosks.
In 2016 a federal judge ruled that the state violated the original 2010 compact by allowing parimutuels to operate so-called designated player games, which the tribe said infringed on its exclusivity to offer banked card games like blackjack. Under a settlement with former Governor Rick Scott, the tribe has continued to pay about $350 million a year to the state. But that agreement will expire May 31.
The draft compact would significantly impact the lucrative designated player games, which parimutuels, especially those beyond Miami-Dade and Broward counties which cannot have slot machines, have profited from. The cardrooms claim thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in revenue would be lost if the games were banned—which the tribe would prefer.
What happens now is uncertain. A representative for the Seminole Tribe, speaking anonymously, said, “We haven’t been activated, so what does that tell you?”
The situation had looked promising when DeSantis recently met on the same day with Seminole Tribe Chairman Marcus Osceola, Seminole Gaming Chief Executive Officer Jim Allen and the Seminole Tribe General Counsel, Jim Shore and later with a wide array of gaming stakeholders. Barbara Havenick, whose family owns parimutuels in Miami-Dade County and Southwest Florida, said it was “the first time since I’ve been involved that he’s gotten this whole group together. There’s never been a time that the industry’s been together and hasn’t wanted to kill itself.”
Palm Beach Kennel Club President Patrick Rooney, a former state representative, said, “The governor wanted to know what the designated player games meant to our business. We expressed to him that’s a very important part of our business. It’s an even more important part for some of the other parimutuels. Obviously in the parimutuel industry you have a lot of diverging and diverse interests, but I think the Governor did a good job, number one, just bringing us all together.”