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Special legislative session on sports betting gets underway with some immediate changes

A deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe would introduce sports betting and expanded table games to casinos.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Legislature has started its special session to consider legalized sports betting in the Sunshine State.

The 30-year compact reached between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida would bring that, plus expanded table games, to the state. Right off the bat, lawmakers announced two changes to the proposed sports betting compact.

One would delay the sportsbook launch until Oct. 15 to ensure proper safeguards. The other addresses concern the deal could’ve opened the door to online casino gambling.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls said he raised the concern with both the Seminole Tribe and DeSantis and that all parties agreed to an addendum elimination of any reference to such language.

“The house will be considering the ratification of a Seminole compact that contains no conversation or pathway for statewide online casino gaming in Florida,” Sprowls said.

DeSantis' deal with the Seminole Tribe would legalize sports betting in Florida, which would be operated exclusively by the tribe. It would also add craps and roulette at the tribe’s casinos.

In exchange, the state gets a guarantee of $2.5 billion over the next five years and $6 billion by the year 2030.

Gamblers at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa seemed to be all-in on it.

“I think that’s a good idea because I do a lot of betting,” said Walter Coates, a casino visitor. “So, yes. That would be wonderful if I could just come here and actually do the betting at the same time.”

Barry Lee, a frequent visitor, agreed. “You know, it’s just like a lot of things. People do it under the table anyway. So, why not let them do it and get something from it, you know?”

Still, whatever comes out of this special session is almost certain to face legal challenges.

Anti-gambling groups say placing sports bets through smartphones could occur off tribal land even if the computer servers processing them were housed on tribal land. That, they argue, would still be a violation of federal law.

“One of the benefits of having a compact between states and tribes is the opportunity to confine gambling to geographic-specific, specific geographic areas,” said John Sowinski, the president of No Casinos. “And that’s tribal lands.”

Lawyers who specialize in this sort of thing say the compact might also violate Amendment Three. It was passed by voters in 2018, giving Florida citizens the right to decide issues related to gambling that occurs off tribal land.

“The legal risk for the state of Florida is exceptionally high,” sports betting attorney Daniel Wallach said. “And there will undoubtedly be litigation over this with a relatively high likelihood that this sports betting framework would be overturned by a federal court.”

DeSantis has said the state and the Seminole Tribe are prepared to vigorously defend the agreement in court.

Lawmakers had set aside the entire week to consider the compact, but many think this could be settled on Wednesday.

In addition to possible legal challenges, whatever comes out of the special session would also have to be approved by the Seminole Tribal Council and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gaming operations.

Lawmakers are also discussing the formation of a Florida gaming control commission to police the industry.

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