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State-Seminole Gaming Pact Passes Legislature

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AP
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On a 97-17 vote, the Florida House on Wednesday gave final approval to a gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that would include allowing sports betting in the state.

That after the Senate voted 39-1 approval on Tuesday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida announced the deal, known as a compact, last month. The House vote came on the third day of a special session. Under the 30-year deal the state would receive $2.5 billion over the first five years. Senate bill sponsor Travis Hutson says the tribe would operate sports betting and other benefits at its casinos, such as craps and roulette.

“This compact is going to bring in billions of dollars that we can use however we want to,” Hutson said. “Either to plug budget holes or to work on education or health care.”

On Tuesday, the state Senate adopted a bill creating a state gaming commission, but legislation seeking to legalize fantasy sports gaming is dead for the year, declared Senate President Wilton Simpson.

“Obviously, we did have differences between the Senate and the House; and so it got derailed,” Simpson said. “The Senate was prepared to pass a bill, and it’s in the compact so it’s available for us to come back next year and clarify if necessary.”

The bills were withdrawn after the nation’s two largest fantasy sports companies, DraftKings and FanDuel, voiced opposition to several provisions in the proposed law. The also claimed that three million Floridians already patronize their sites.

“I haven’t heard of anyone getting challenged on the backyard game of fantasy football or baseball and getting arrested,” said Simpson. “That’s what next year is for, right? Next year is only seven months away….so maybe we’ll do that next year.”

Meanwhile, about 200 gambling opponents rallied outside the state capitol on Tuesday, led by John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council. He contends that casinos would be bad for the state, regardless of how much money flows in.

“Florida doesn’t need to be the destination casino gambling state. It needs to be what it is now, the family friendly tourist destination for people all over the world,” said Stemberger.

It is not a done deal just yet — it still needs the approval of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling operations. House Speaker Chris Sprowls said they’re waiting on Uncle Sam.

“But look, we’re going to know that pretty quick; so Interior has about 45 days on whether or not to reject or accept the language of the compact,” said Sprowls. “So we will know in August. If they reject the compact then obviously this particular compact wouldn’t be in place. That’s their decision.”

And the compact is expected to face a legal challenge, because of the sports betting provision. That, said the speaker, is pretty much a given in part because of the size and scope of the deal.

“Some people have looked at it and said, ‘Hey, I don’t think it’s going to make it,’ I’ve looked at it – I think it will,” Sprowls said. “The reality is that’s going to be resolved by a court. If it is litigated, let’s assume that the federal court says that’s not a valid way to do it. So that part is now severed from the compact. Floridians get the benefit of the bargain under the compact, and just lose the $50 million for sports betting.”

In a written statement after the vote, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will now see a large recurring revenue stream of billions of dollars over the next few years.  The compact is also expected to create about 2,200 new jobs.