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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Confused By Florida's New Gambling Deal? What Changes You Could Start To See — And When

A court says "pre-reveal" games are too much like illegal slot machines.
A court says "pre-reveal" games are too much like illegal slot machines.

The new compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida overhauls gambling in the state: adds sports betting, as well as certain new Las Vegas-style games, like craps and roulette.

State lawmakers put their stamp of approval on a new deal between the governor and the Seminole Tribe of Florida last week, after a three-day special legislative session specifically focused on working out the deal.

The new compact comes more than a decade after a previous 2010 deal between the state and the tribe, which later expired, and it can be a little confusing to keep up with the new changes and what people will actually start to see a shift — whether they visit, live or work near a Hard Rock Casino.

To break it down and explain what the new compact between the state and the tribe means, WLRN spoke with reporter Lawrence Mower. He covers state government and politics for the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald's Tallahassee bureau.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

WLRN: Lawrence, you've seen a lot of these proposals around gambling make it to the state before this and fail. Why did this pass now?

MOWER: The state's last agreement with the tribe fell through. Non-tribal gaming entities, typically horse tracks and things like that, were apparently offering games that were not allowed under the compact.

The state was not cracking down on these things. And the Seminole tribe said, "Look, this is competition to us. If you're not going to hold up your end of this agreement, we're not going to hold up our end."

And so in 2019, they said, "Look, we're not we're going to stop sharing revenue with the state."

Do you get a sense that this time around the state will look to crack down on competitors to the tribe more?

Definitely.

There's definitely incentive for the state to prevent the compact from falling through. They created a new gaming commission.

And the tribe says, having a gaming commission with a law enforcement arm, it was absolutely crucial to this getting done.

So this new compact adds sports betting in Florida. How will that work?

You would be allowed to bet on Florida-based pro teams, professional teams like the [Miami] Marlins, [Tampa Bay] Bucs.

The agreement still needs to be ratified — but under the current agreement — the Seminole tribe will be allowed to offer online sports betting.

So through an app on your phone, you could place bets wherever you are within the state of Florida.

This would be a this would be obviously a radical change. We've not had sports betting in Florida until this. The tribe would also be allowed to offer craps and roulette.

Do you think that this is going to be a tourist draw?

The Seminole tribe says ... 'We're not planning to draw tourists away from Disney."

Certainly from the people who are against expanding gambling, yes, they do see this as a threat to the state's reputation as a family-friendly state.

There's still a fear, you know, that some people will fall victim to gambling. This does happen.

The two areas of the state that are really going to see this change, you've got the Seminole Tribe's Hollywood Reservation and then the Tampa area. What are the biggest changes that people living around these places could see?

Your Hard Rock properties are going to be bigger. And they're going to have more games, [and] are going to be more of a draw.

This special session was three days. Did you feel like this was rushed?

A lot of people felt like this was rushed — a lot of lawmakers did.

It's Republicans who control the Legislature and they wanted to give Gov. Ron DeSantis a win here.

There were a lot of questions, even from Republicans, about, "Hey, is this even a good deal for the state?" A lot of people thought that Florida could have gotten a better deal.

If you look at like 2014, for example, they had 13 meetings over like seven months. They wrote like a 700-page report about the history of gaming in Florida and how this structure that they were considering would compare to other states.

There was none of that this year.

There was a constitutional amendment passed just a few years ago saying that the state can't expand gambling without the voters of Florida saying so.

However, that amendment had a catch to it, which is that it did not apply to games that are part of a compact with a tribe.

Well, in stemming from that 2018 provision, how likely do you think those lawsuits are — that are surely coming — to holding up this deal?

Even the tribe admits that this could be against the state constitution. Is this is an expansion of gambling or not? It's going to be something that a judge is going to decide.

The big question here, of course, is will people actually be allowed to bet on their phone on sports games? The earliest you see sports betting being offered would be Oct. 15, so we're months away from this actually happening.

Certainly, after the compact is ratified or approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior, you're going to see lawsuits that could immediately tie this whole thing up.
Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

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