Florida Seminoles Want Online Gaming in New Compact
There are a few states in America that stand out for live poker offerings, and Florida is one of them. There are poker rooms around the state, from Seminole to bestbet properties, the poker rooms provide a plethora of live poker cash game and tournament action for players.
For online poker, however, Florida is another story.
It seems that Florida would be a prime candidate for legalized online poker, considering the card rooms that could benefit from the promotions and outreach to more players. There was an effort by the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States in 2012, but the complications of any proposed legislation were too much, primarily because live poker and casino games are only legal on tribal lands and at racinos. And with the Seminole Tribe of Florida compacts with the state already being very complicated and contentious, it seems unlikely that online gaming would become legal.
However, that changed in 2019. Online gaming was a part of compact talks this year. It seems that the Seminoles do want online poker and casino games. The problem came down to the governor nixing it.
2019 Compact Conversations
The last official compact between the Seminoles and the state was signed by Governor Rick Scott in late 2015, and it was extended in April 2018 to remain effective until May 31, 2019.
That time is quickly approaching, so the new governor has been in talks with tribal leaders for months to negotiate a new compact. Talks have been contentious at times, but a revenue-sharing agreement was necessary to continue the tribe’s gambling operations – somewhat exclusively – in exchange for payments to the state. And the amount has been significant in the past, as the soon-to-expire agreement resulted in $350 million per year for Florida.
The primary point of contention revolves around two issues that are interwoven. The first is the “exclusive” rights to gambling that are shared with pari-mutuel operators, and the second is the fight over designated player game restrictions that have already been litigated in court.
Designated Card Games
For years, racinos and Seminole casinos have been battling over gambling revenue in Florida as it pertains to player-banked or designated-player card games, such as blackjack and poker.
Florida law defines such banked games as ones that pay winners by collecting from losers, as in poker. Blackjack also operates in a way that puts players in charge of the bank instead of the house.
The Seminoles have long claimed rights to such games in its compacts, so when pari-mutuel betting establishments began offering them, the Seminoles took the state to court for violating the terms of the compact. And Florida countersued. Rulings have gone back and forth through the year, with Florida winning a $340 million ruling in a district court in 2017, but a different judge ruled for the tribe and its exclusivity agreement that dated back to 2010.
The compact due to expire on May 31 had such an exclusivity agreement in it, which saw the Seminoles paying Florida $350 million per year and Florida promising to “aggressively enforce” the games at racinos. The Seminoles argue that efforts have not been sufficient.
All on the Table
The latest compact talks have put nearly everything on the table, from bingo to sports betting, craps and roulette to online gaming.
There are several demands from the Seminoles, including more serious restrictions on the player-banked games and more serious enforcement efforts from the state’s gambling regulators. The state has agreed but wants to offer traditional bingo games to the pari-mutuel establishments in exchange. Reportedly, however, the dog and horse racing tracks, as well as jai-alai frontons, want sports betting. The Seminoles might be willing to agree to it if the tribes can also do it and receive a cut of all bets made at other facilities.
Under rumored new gaming compact, Seminole Tribe would get additional table games and exclusivity over online gaming, while Florida parimutuels would get retail sports betting, a 10% reduction on slot taxes, and 24 hour card rooms, via @JimRosicaFL https://t.co/3pCmZWmVYF
— Daniel Wallach (@WALLACHLEGAL) April 11, 2019
The tribes also wanted to add craps and roulette to their array of casino table games, and they wanted to add the exclusive rights to online gaming, presumably to include poker and casino games. However, it seems that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis objected to these items, so they may be off the table for this round of talks.
Florida wants the Seminole revenue-sharing agreement to increase to $500 million per year. The pari-mutuels want more incentives to stop offering player-banked games, especially due to the impending outlawing of dog racing in 2021.
None of the parties involved seem very willing to compromise enough to move talks forward. But there is a deadline for a compact that will not only please the tribes and pari-mutuels but the governor and state legislature, too.
Always fun watching Florida keep gaming expansion hopes alive each legislative cycle. A Charlie Brown trying to kick the football scene. https://t.co/16wwfI1Cuv
— Geoff Hawkins (@GeoffHawkinsMSA) April 17, 2019
Final Complicating Factor
In November 2018, Amendment 3 was on the ballot in Florida. If it passed, Florida voters would have the sole right to decide what happens with gambling in the state per voter referendums. The Poker Alliance took a strong stance against the bill, trying to defeat it due to the supermajority of votes any measure would need to pass, including even changes to current laws.
The measure did pass in November by a massive 71.44% to 28.56%.
What this means as it pertains to the compact is that only voters can approve more table games, any sports betting, or any online gambling.
One of the groups that pushed hard for the passage of Amendment 3 was Voters in Charge, and the group’s president, John Sowinski, told Florida Politics that if any part of the new compact infringes upon the voter rights gained by Amendment 3, it would be “patently unconstitutional.”
Online Gaming Out?
It seems that online poker and casino games are on the minds of the Seminole tribal leaders, but they may have sacrificed online gaming as a part of the earlier negotiations. Even if not, lawyers and state officials would likely insist that something like online gaming be routed through a voter referendum per Amendment 3.
Either way, it is unlikely that Florida will legalize online poker in any form in 2019.