(The Center Square) – As gambling interests await a federal verdict from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on Florida’s pending 30-year pact with the Seminole Tribe, a powerful anti-gambling coalition is lobbying those same federal officials to reject the deal.
In a five-page June 9 letter to Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of Interior Bryan Newland, slated to lead the BIA, No Casinos President John Sowinski argues the compact violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and Florida laws, including 2018’s Amendment 3, which requires gambling expansion be approved in statewide referendums.
The pact, he writes, has so many “fatal” flaws even proponents should want the BIA to kick it back for vetting because he is confident No Casino’s will win a threatened lawsuit if it gets federal endorsement.
Saying “no” to the deal, Sowinski told Newland, “simply sends the matter back to Tallahassee with the very clear message of ‘get it right’ with an agreement that benefits both the Tribe and State, while honoring the intent of IGRA and will of Florida voters.”
After three years of negations with the Seminoles, the 75-page pact was approved by lawmakers May 19 after a three-day special session and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 25.
The deal grants the Seminoles exclusive control of blackjack, craps, online fantasy and sports betting at its seven casinos and on non-tribal pari-mutuels via its Hard Rock Digital platform.
In exchange, the Seminoles will pay Florida at least $500 million annually for the first five years of the pact, which must be endorsed by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and BIA within 45 days to ensure it complies with the IGRA.
Securing that federal nod, expected anytime between this week and mid-July, is uncertain because the pact features “a new business model” that forges a “hub-and-spoke” partnership between remote servers on tribal lands and pari-mutuel operators across the state.
The pact proposes to “radically substitute” place for process, meaning no matter where a person makes a wager, it’s not a transaction, therefore not a bet, until processed by servers on tribal land.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court recently rejected the Santa Ysabel Tribe’s argument that having servers on tribal land means gaming should be governed under the IRGA, not California state law.
The court ruled a wager must be legal where both received and initiated and, therefore, because California law states it’s illegal to participate in online betting, the arrangement is illegal. However, Florida law doesn’t specifically prohibit online gaming.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber in a June 3 letter also called on Newland and DOI Secretary Deb Haaland to reject the deal, calling it “a vehicle hijacked by non-tribal casino interests who fully corrupted the legislative and executive process to obtain advantages outside of tribal land and in direct contravention to the interests of Floridians.”
No Casinos, which counts former Gov. Jeb Bush among supporters, has stymied non-tribal casino development and gambling expansions in Florida since 1978.
It cites that California ruling and also maintains adding craps, roulette and sports betting is unconstitutional because it violates Amendment 3.
“The flaws are many and they are fatal,” Sowinski wrote.
During the special session, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, a former casino executive, echoed those thoughts about the deal’s sports betting component. “Personally,” he told lawmakers, “I don’t think it’s going to survive.”
Under the deal, sports betting would be legal beginning Sept. 9, the day the NFL’s 2021 season starts. Proponents say the state would recoup millions in untaxed revenues from the $7 billion in mobile sports bets placed by Floridians in 2020, according to the American Gaming Association.