The Seminole Indian Tribe’s gaming compact with the state of Florida became operational Wednesday when the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs published it in the Federal Register. The bureau on Aug. 6 allowed the compact to be “deemed approved” by not taking action during a 45-day review period. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the BIA Bryan Newland wrote a 12-page letter last week explaining the bureau’s decision.
With the compact now published, it’s possible that the Seminole Tribe, which effectively has a monopoly on sports betting in Florida, will be able to launch live, legal wagering sometime this fall. What that will look like is unclear, as any wager made in the state must go through a Seminole server. According to the compact and the new law legalizing sports betting and ratifying the compact, other operators can partner with the Seminoles through deals with parimutuel facilities.
A spokesperson for Seminole Gaming told Sports Handle today that it “is not yet specifying launch dates for new games beyond referring to a more general ‘fall’ time period. Ramping up new games, including sports betting, requires extensive hiring and training as well as purchasing and installation of new equipment.”
The Seminoles could potentially launch either retail or mobile wagering by the middle of football season, but whether other operators will be able to is in question. The tribe is mandated to negotiate deals with at least three parimutuel operators within three months of the effective date of the compact or pay an additional 2% in revenue share to the state. The revenue share is set at 13.75% for any wager made directly through a Seminole platform and 10% for any wager made through a parimutuel’s platform.
BIA on why compact is legal
Many in the industry and in Florida believe that the compact overreaches by allowing mobile wagering off tribal lands, and lawmakers expected the compact to be challenged even as they ratified it on May 19.
“It doesn’t take a master’s degree to know that there will be litigation,” Rep. Sam Garrison said during discussion at that time.
Though Newland explained why the BIA believes the compact to be within the bounds of the law and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, two lawsuits have already been filed and a group of commercial operators is moving forward with a 2022 ballot initiative that would allow for statewide mobile wagering not tied to the Seminoles.
In his Aug. 6 letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola, Newland wrote:
“In examining the permissibility of mobile sports betting under IGRA as a novel matter, the Department seeks to uphold the intent of IGRA and notes that: I) evolving technology should not be an impediment to tribes participating in the gaming industry; 2) the pursuit of mobile gaming is in-line with the public policy considerations of IGRA to promote tribal economic development, self sufficiency, and strong tribal governments; and 3) the purposes of IGRA would be served through the improvement of tribal-state cooperation in the regulation of mobile wagering.”
Statement from FL Gov. Ron DeSantis says final approval of the compact is a "big deal" for the state.
“This mutually-beneficial agreement will grow our economy, expand tourism and recreation and provide billions in new revenue to benefit Floridians."
— Steve Bittenbender (@CasinoOrgSteveB) August 6, 2021
The decision to let the compacts become law could have wide-reaching implications in other states with tribal gaming. As an example, Michigan‘s tribes gave up exclusivity for Class III gaming and agreed to be regulated and taxed by the state in order to get up and running quickly. And tribes in both Arizona and Connecticut agreed to compacts that cut into their exclusivity by allowing some commercial operators to be active in those states.
In Arizona, operators may partner with professional sports venues to offer statewide mobile wagering, while in Connecticut, the two tribes agreed to let the state lottery offer a digital wagering platform and operate up to 15 retail wagering locations.
DraftKings, FanDuel initiative moving forward
While the final piece of the federal puzzle fell into place, outside sources continue to seek ways around the compact or to have it reconsidered. Florida Education Champions, the PAC backed by backed by sports betting titans DraftKings and FanDuel, spent $3.4 million to reach voters in June, according to Florida Politics. The PAC is currently collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would allow commercial operators, and it expended funds in June for voter outreach.
DraftKings and FanDuel combined to fund Florida Education Champions with $20 million ahead of a new law that limits contributions to $3,000 per month, which went into effect July 1.
With school starting back, let's add more money to education funding. Sign our petition today to increase education funding through tax revenues received from online sports betting.https://t.co/L85M9w5Lrv pic.twitter.com/HOCgKCPmdZ
— Florida Education Champions (@FloridaEdChamps) August 11, 2021
Several other gaming PACs have also been active in the state, including one backed by the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which aims to bring a casino to Jacksonville. There’s also a new PAC backed by a $15 million contribution from the Magic City Casino, which has filed a lawsuit against DeSantis claiming the new law is in violation of federal oversight.
The Seminoles funded their own PAC, Voters in Control, with the goal of stymying any new gambling initiatives that could “erode the benefits” the tribe has already secured. The Seminoles funded Voters in Control with $10 million.
In addition, the voter-approved Amendment 3 has seemingly been lost in the commotion around the new compact and law. In 2018, voters passed the constitutional amendment, which gives voters “the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida.”
The compact, which also allows for an expansion of casino gaming, was negotiated between the Seminoles and the state while lawmakers went on to ratify the compact and set some guidelines around the gaming expansion. Some argue that allowing the Seminoles to offer statewide mobile wagering, in particular, violates the amendment.