Florida to allow sports gambling under new agreement with Seminole Tribe

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reached an agreement with the state’s Seminole Tribe on Friday that would greatly expand gambling in the state, including the introduction of legalized sports wagering.

The tribe would be allowed to offer sports gambling at its casinos in South Florida and near Tampa and will be allowed to license horse tracks, jai-alai frontons and former dog tracks to accept such wagers on its behalf for a share of the income, the Republican governor announced.

The tribe will also be allowed to introduce craps and roulette at its seven casinos, including the popular Hard Rock near Fort Lauderdale. The state would get at least $2.5 billion from the tribe over the first five years and at least $6 billion over by 2030. DeSantis, in a statement, said he expects the pact to create 2,200 new jobs.

“This historic compact expands economic opportunity, tourism, and recreation, and bolsters the fiscal success of our state in one fell swoop for the benefit of all Floridians and Seminoles alike,” DeSantis said. “Our agreement establishes the framework to generate billions in new revenue and untold waves of positive economic impact.”

The 30-year compact between the state and tribe must still be considered by the Legislature at a special session that will begin May 17. It also must be approved by the Seminole tribal council and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling operations.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is committed to a mutually beneficial gaming compact with the State of Florida,” said Marcellus Osceola Jr., the tribe’s chairman.

The original compact with the Seminoles expired in 2015. That original compact gave them exclusive rights to certain games, such as slot machines and card games like blackjack. In exchange, the tribe paid the state tens of millions of dollars — which all but tried up when it expired.

Then-Gov. Rick Scott reached a new deal with the tribe, but it died because many lawmakers believed its expansion of gambling went too far.

But Florida is also a state with areas that are highly conservative and religious and their legislators have traditionally opposed an expansion of gambling.

“Florida is a diverse state and our Senators and constituents have many different opinions, beliefs and convictions regarding gaming,” Senate President Wilton Simpson wrote in a memo to his members. “The fact remains, Florida has a significant gaming footprint, and I think if we are going to regulate these activities, it should be within a structure that is fair and equitable to all parties.”

Simpson also said the state needs to update its laws “to reflect current realities of this heavily-regulated industry and to ensure those laws are properly enforced.” Currently, about half the states and the District of Columbia allow sports wagering in some form.

Rep. Chip LaMarca, who has been pushing for gaming legislation in the House, said he is “very happy to see that legalized, safe, and regulated sports wagering will be included in the new compact. It is about time that Florida joins the other states and gives our residents and tourists this additional entertainment choice.”

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