The upcoming legislative session will be the first where the Florida public have the final say on any gaming expansion, this, however, is not stopping plans for far-reaching changes to the current landscape.
The legislative state of play down in Florida is a tumultuous one of that there is no doubt. Tribal revenue payments are currently being made on good faith alone due to compact disputes, an amendment passed last year means that any gaming expansions must now be made through a public referendum and there are murmurings of sports betting to boot.
There is much work to be done this legislative season it appears and Senate President Bill Galvano has recently stated intent to remedy the state-tribal standstill and circumvent the public mandate in order to allow brick and mortar operations to open sportsbooks.
The Florida legislative season opens on 5 March and Galvano has instructed the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee to have a draft gaming expansion proposal ready for this date.
The most pertinent part of the proposal will be the renegotiation of the now-expired compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Indians – worth some $380m in the last fiscal year.
Galvano recently referenced a need to “stabilise and present new terms or modified terms to the existing (Seminole) Compact.” if the state is to avoid a potentially perilous pecuniary pitfall.
The current revenue sharing agreement is currently set to expire in May and to date lawmakers have yet to make any substantial progress towards finalising a renewed deal.
Under the current compact the Seminole tribe has the exclusive right to offer slots and blackjack outside of southern Florida and further believe that sports wagering falls under their operational remit. It is this sportsbook issue that appears to be the crux of the impasse. The tribe has been a positive partner for the state yet is not one to be bullied – as early as last year threatened to pull its revenue sharing payments if sports betting was allowed to be operated by anyone but itself.
It is patently in the best interest of Florida lawmakers to work to appease the casino giant.
“They have made a tremendous investment, billions of dollars in their facilities, but yet they still lack craps and roulette games that are traditionally in casinos of that magnitude,” Galvano said.
“I know they would like to see that. They have an interest, as I understand, in (offering) sports betting and they do want stability because they can operate and work with their financiers in a more stable environment (and) they can point to an agreement that is not in flux, so to speak.”
However, the passing of the Voter Control of Gambling amendment throws a sizable spanner into the works. Under the new terms any expansion of gambling practices or premises must be authorised by a public vote and this would reportedly include the addition of sports wagering to the Seminole compact.
John Sowinski, president of Voters in Charge – a lobbying group that acted in favour of the amendment – has stated adamant belief that sports betting is part of the measures that the public must have final say on, heightening the risk of any referendum circumvention being met with legal action.
This leaves Galvano with a number of spinning plates this legislative season, but
considering he was instrumental in getting the 2010 Seminole compact agreed and is also the ex-president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, there appears to be no man better suited for the job.
HIs grand idea at present is to tie legislation authorising sports betting with a statewide referendum to avoid any potential lawsuits. Such banks on the presupposition that there is a wanting for the practice, which, if reports of a proliferate sports betting black market
are to believed, there patently is.
The gaming bills being brought to the legislative session will additionally include “more of a comprehensive impact on the parimutuels” according to Galvano – a move that may well be one of appeasement towards the tribes.
The Seminoles have long been against the proliferation of race track gaming and card room operations – something that was virtually stopped by the voter control amendment – but the new legislative proposals would take further action against hours of operations and rate of tax payments.
The battle lines appear drawn and the most beneficial outcome fairly obvious, but whether reason prevails in the sunshine state remains to be seen. The good money will be on a Seminole sports betting exclusivity agreement tied to a renewed compact – most likely with an increase in revenue payments for the right – but then again there are very few certainties in the United States, especially when it comes to common sense.