The Center Square
By John Haughey
May 17, 2021

Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine Steve Cannon / AP


(The Center Square) – Florida lawmakers will consider nine Senate bills and four House bills when they convene Monday for a scheduled three-day special session to debate a proposed 30-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that would allow sports wagering and “decouple” pari-mutuels from live racing requirements.

All 13 bills were filed Friday with Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, sponsoring all nine proposed Senate measures that will go before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday and Tuesday.

Senate President Wilton Simpson said in a Friday memo that Hutson’s bills are fashioned to reflect the state’s complicated gaming environment.

“In total, the proposed gaming legislation seeks to balance the requirements of federal Indian gaming law, the complex pari-mutuel regulatory structure established over decades, and the need to better enforce restrictions against illegal gaming, all while adhering to the new constitutional restrictions on casino-style gaming,” he wrote.

Two of the four House bills were sponsored by Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Plant City, with the other two filed by multiple sponsors.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls said he will appoint a select committee to vet special session legislation with the goal of getting all bills on chamber floors for adoption Wednesday.

After two years of failed negotiations, Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 23 signed a 75-page deal that stipulates the Seminole Tribe pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the pact’s first five years.

Under the pact, the tribe would also be granted exclusive control of blackjack and craps at its seven casinos, as well as sports betting – a $2 billion market in Florida by 2025, according to 2019 projections by Morgan Stanley – on its properties and at non-tribal pari-mutuels via its new Hard Rock Digital platform.

By allowing the Seminoles to control sports betting, the deal would not violate 2018’s Amendment 3, according to DeSantis, legislative leaders and the tribe.

As a sovereign tribal nation, the Seminole’s gaming operations are governed under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), allowing them to circumvent Amendment 3’s mandate that any gaming expansion be approved by state voters.

Anti-gaming group No Casinos, which has stymied high-stakes casino gambling in Florida since 1978, has threatened to sue the state if lawmakers endorse the compact as currently configured.

A brief roundup of all 13 bills:

Senate Bill 2A: This bill ratifies the Seminole compact. Its House version, House Bill 1A, is sponsored by Reps. Bobby Payne, R- Palatka, and Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island.
SB 4A: This measure would establish the Florida Gaming Control Commission within the Attorney General Office’s Department of Legal Affairs. Related SB 6A would create the public records exemptions to allow the commission to conduct investigations.
SB 8A: This proposal would change how pari-mutuel operations are regulated.

Right now, Florida law requires live racing or competition for pari-mutuel wagering to take place. Under SB 8A, “decoupling” would be allowed, meaning means race tracks could still allow gaming like slot machines without live racing.

An ad hoc coalition of Florida pari-mutuel interests last week offered lawmakers 42 “consensus amendments” that would allow slot machines and card rooms to operate 24/7, among other recommendations. Some are in SB 8A, but most are not.

SB 8A’s House version is HB 7A, filed by Reps. Chris Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, and Will Robinson, R-Bradenton.

SB 10A: This bill would change bingo game regulations to “provide additional entertainment choices” and promote tourism. Bingo game taxes and fees are addressed in SBs 12A and 14A.

SB 16A: The proposed ‘Fantasy Sports Contest Amusement Act’ would legalize sports betting with SB 18A setting forth licensing requirements and fees for operators.

Tomkow has filed the two house versions, HBs 9A and 11A.

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