The Florida House and Senate have tentatively adopted their proposed fiscal year 2021 budgets, kicking off a scurry of behind-the-scene conferencing to iron out differences and adopt a spending plan before the session adjourns March 13.
Missing from both plans is the $350 million in annual gaming compact revenues the state has received since 2010 from the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The chambers’ budgets also don’t include estimated revenues that could be generated if Florida legalized sports betting, which is allowed after a U.S. Supreme Court 2018 ruling in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Lawmakers cannot legalize sports gaming by legislative action in Florida because of the November 2018 passage of Amendment 3, which requires any “expansion of gambling” be approved by at least 60 percent of voters in a ballot measure.
Amendment 3, largely bankrolled by Disney and the Seminoles, passed with a 71 percent majority and “ensures Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, in November, filed three bills that would legalize sports betting in Florida, placing regulatory authority with the Department of Lottery. They have idled without being heard before a committee.
The Seminoles stopped making their $19.5 million monthly payments when their pact with the state expired last May after lawmakers and the tribe failed to reach an accord over banked card games, control of online gaming and discord over newly legal sports gambling.
The tribe cited the state’s failure to install “a mechanism to shut down the illegal banked card games,” as ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle in 2016, as the reason for discontinuing revenue-sharing payments – $350 million annually.
The Seminoles maintain its 2010 compact with the state guarantees them “exclusivity” to offer banked card games, such as blackjack, through 2030.
In January, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, filed House Bill 1195, which he said would renew the Seminole pact and generate $750 million a year for the state’s coffers by ensuring the tribe would be the only entity in the state that could offer casino-style games – craps, roulette, and banked card games like blackjack and baccarat.
Plakon’s HB 1195 has not been assigned to a committee and, like Brandes’ three proposals, is dead for the session.
Last spring, before the pact expired, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and the tribe reached tentative agreement on a deal through 2050 that would have permitted sports gaming at the Seminoles’ casinos as well as horse tracks, dog tracks and jai alai frontons, with the tribe serving as “hub.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis did not green-light the deal, asking the state and Seminoles to return to the bargaining table. Negotiations have stalled since October.
Nevertheless, throughout the session, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker Jose Oilva, R-Hialeah, have hinted discussions between the chambers about sports gaming and a new Seminoles pact have continued.
In late January, Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, and Rep. Mike LaRosa, R-St. Cloud, told the Miami Herald and the Miami Times that legislative leaders were engaged in talks with DeSantis about “what a compact and gaming bill would look like.”
As reported by The News Service of Florida on Thursday, Galvano said legislative leaders are continuing to negotiate a possible gaming compact to present to the Seminoles and a ballot measure asking voters to legalize sports betting.
But don’t bet on it, he said.
“It’s premature to believe that there is a negotiated deal between the chambers. That has not occurred yet,” Galvano told The News Service of Florida.