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Florida Gambling Agreement Expected To get A House Vote Today

A hand throws a King of clubs onto a green felt gambling table
Michał Parzuchowski

Florida’s special on gambling is moving quickly. The Senate voted Tuesday to approve a compact agreement with the Seminole Indian Tribe. Meanwhile, the House is expected to vote on the issue today.

The state’s proposed gambling agreement with the Seminole Indian tribe passed the Senate on an almost unanimous vote. Senate President Wilton Simpson said that’s a “consensus” that stems from nearly a decade of work and negotiation.

"We’re really pleased with that. But it is extremely difficult because there are so many competing interests. And if there are 50 competing interests then there are at least a million ways to put those pieces of the puzzle together,” Simpson said.

Concerns about that complexity have caused some, like Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) to call for more time to review the 30-year deal.

“So that we make sure we take into account the Floridians who will be engaging in this. I know it's important and it will create jobs and that’s great," Driskell said, "but have we even had the conversation on the impact it will have on communities around casinos?”

Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay), who chairs the House gambling committee said legislative leaders are working to strike a balance between giving lawmakers enough time to review the proposal and moving forward to start capturing needed revenue sooner. The proposal would give the Seminole tribe control of sports betting in the state in exchange for about $2.5 billion in the first five years.

One thing to keep in mind is the Seminoles don’t start paying until we approve their compact and it gets approved by the Department of the Interior," Fine said. "So if you assume $500 million that’s $1.5 million a day. So if we wait, assuming that’s the right decision for the state, that costs the taxpayers $1.5 million.”

Under the proposed deal, the Seminole tribe would pay the state a minimum of $500-million annually. That’s money Simpson says could be essential to help cover future expenses—like state workers’ paychecks.

“The constitutional amendment that passed on minimum wage is going to require another $6-700 million recurring of revenue—additional. We did $42 million this year to bring everybody up to $13 an hour. But to go to $15 an hour just on state employees its another $240 million and then to do it to all the state agencies that work indirectly for the state that’s another $5-700 million. We will have an exact number by October the first. So when you say $500 million, that’s a lot of revenue, the truth is we have this balance on our balance sheet that has to be addressed," Simpson said.

Simpson is talking about an amendment to Florida’s constitution that raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.

Meanwhile, both Simpson and Fine say they’re already expecting pieces of the agreement to face battles in court.

The gambling agreement passed by the Senate Tuesday includes a sports gambling component that opponents say could violate a state constitutional requirement that voters approve any state gambling expansion. That rule does not include gambling that takes place at tribe casinos. But opponents say while under the new proposal sports betting would be run by the tribe, and the servers used would be on tribal land—not everyone participating would be. They argue that means a statewide vote is required.

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Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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