Legal Sports Betting In Florida And The Battle Between The Legislature And Seminole Tribe

Negotiations over gambling rights lie at the heart of the battle for legal sports betting in Florida. The 2020 general election brought states like Maryland, Nebraska, South Dakota, and most Louisiana parishes into the modern world of sports wagering. Florida had a similar bill in circulation in 2019 that never made it past committee.

Floridians remain in the dark on the nuances of why Florida has not expanded its gambling industry, and demand continues to rise. Here at SGFL, we break down this decades-long debate and discuss the paths to domestic sports betting in Florida.

Some say that the issue dates to early 1800’s America, back when the US government was signing peace treaties settling Native American tribes in westward reservations. The Seminoles remained one of the only tribes not to sign a peace agreement, giving them the ‘Unconquered’ status and highlighting the tribe’s modern business mindset.

In the late 1970s, the Seminoles began expanding their ventures into the gambling industry. The legal battle materialized during this time, with a critical piece of federal legislation passing in 1988. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, passed by Congress, granted tribes the sovereignty to create casinos on their land if the tribe signs a compact to disperse some revenue back to the State.

The Act did not come into play until 2007 when the Seminole Tribe officially bought the Hard Rock brand and began building their casino empire. In 2010 the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe expanded their $350 million annual compact, giving the Seminoles exclusivity over offering banked card games.

That compact expired in 2015, and since then, negotiations over a new deal have faltered. Further compact talks on behalf of the Florida legislature attempted to pare down certain exclusivity rights and give the State more control over the gambling industry.

There are a few reasons why negotiations have faltered.

The Seminole Tribe claims that the State is violating their agreement by allowing the pari-mutuel industry to offer player-designated card games at horse, dog, and jai alai frontons. The State has failed to crack down on the pari-mutuels, prompting the Seminole Tribe to discontinue its $350 million in annual revenue sharing.

And since the repeal of PASPA in 2018, which opened the sports betting industry to US states, things have only gotten more complicated.

In 2018 an organization called No Casinos sponsored Amendment 3, which requires voter approval for proposals on casino-style gambling. Voter approval is not necessary on Tribal property since it is regulated under Federal law. The two largest donors backing the Amendment, which passed, were Disney and the Seminole Tribe.

State lawmakers attempted to negotiate a deal in 2018 to no avail. In 2019, Florida Senator Jeff Brandes sponsored a bill to give the State of Florida regulatory authority over the sports betting industry. Still, he failed to get the bill onto the Senate floor.

Senator Wilton Simpson attempted to negotiate a new deal in 2019, a 31-year compact, with the Seminoles. Senate President Bill Galvano shot that deal down. The proposed compact aimed to continue to allow the operation of pari-mutuel card rooms while giving the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights over hosting statewide online sports betting.

Now Florida lawmakers are engaged in backroom discussions, using Simpson’s proposal as a first draft, and attempting to hash out a new compact to propose to the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Sports betting serves as the most enticing leverage the State may offer the tribe to resume annual revenue sharing.

Some district judges argue that both actors have broken negotiation agreements and that neither is compelled to continue bilateral negotiations. Some think the State should go ahead and legalize sports betting alone without the Seminole Tribe. However, if the State does this, they enter a risky competition with the Seminole Tribe, which is already a gambling industry giant.

Miami Herald
Miami Herald

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