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Key Senator Breaks Down Florida Sports Betting Situation

Florida sports betting remains up in the air, but state legislators are preparing for the industry.

Sen. Travis Hutson is the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which reported favorably two gaming issues last week.

On Friday, Hutson told LSR that Gov. Ron DeSantis is still in tribal compact negotiations with the Seminole Indians. A new compact could include sports betting in Florida.

“Everything is positive so far,” Hutson said. “With gaming, it’s always a rollercoaster, up and down seven times before it’s a deal. I don’t know if it’s the fifth or sixth, but there’s no reason to say no deal.”

Hutson didn’t speculate on the chances an agreement is reached but did say he feels hopeful. Time could be the deciding factor this year, with the legislative session finishing April 30.

Last week, Senate President Wilton Simpson suggested a special legislative session could be held to complete a new compact.

Farther in negotiation than previous years

Hutson said this is the deepest he’s seen tribal compact negotiations he’s seen. A renegotiated compact has been needed since 2015.

The Seminole believe the state is in violation of the current compact, a 20-year pact signed in 2010, because the state has allowed pari-mutuel facilities to offer designated-player card games. A US District Judge sided with the tribe in 2016. In 2019, the Seminole suspended its annual payments of approximately $330 million because of the ongoing situation.

The card games remain a focus of discussions between the two parties.

“This has never been this close before,” Huston said. “It usually falls apart week six or seven, when you get into the designated player games and sports betting. The hiccups and hurdles are almost overcome, then the devil’s in the detail. But we’re not there yet.”

What could Florida sports betting look like?

The state could just jump into FL sports betting and leave the tribe behind but serious legal challenges could result.

Hutson said that isn’t ideal because the state then loses further negotiation leverage. The state would like to see annual payments from the tribe again in the future.

With tribal negotiations in mind, Hutson said it comes down to whether the Seminole receive exclusivity over sports betting. One model he suggested was a hub and spoke model with sportsbook wagers all heading through the tribal casinos.

In negotiations, DeSantis offered sports betting control to the Seminoles in exchange for a non-tribal casino they are blocking in Miami Beach. The tribe rejected the offer last week, according to the Miami Herald. The Herald said it “was likely a final offer” this year.

Another issue within the negotiations, according to the Herald, is how Florida sports betting profits would be split between Seminole and pari-mutuel operations.

Senate gaming issues moving forward

Simpson hopes the new compact is worked out, according to a memo to Senators. The Senate President has a strong relationship with the tribe.

Simpson also is pushing forward the gaming bills recently reviewed by the Appropriations Committee.

“We’re working with our counterparts in the house on a couple of things we need to get done outside the gaming compact,” Hutson said. “Not low-hanging fruits, but things important to all of us on both sides of the aisle.”

Florida is the largest state without a gaming commission. Senate Bill 7076 would create a five-member Gaming Control Commission.

Senate Bill 7080 decouples gaming licenses. Pari-mutuel and cardroom licensees would no longer need to offer harness racing, quarter-horse racing or jai alai.

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