Florida Seminole Indians Introduce New Wrinkle to Gaming Negotiations

Long at the forefront of casino gaming,
especially when it comes to the Native American population, the Seminole Indians
of Florida have traditionally been hard core negotiators. With both the federal
and Florida governments, the Seminoles have more often than not come out on the
winning side when it comes to negotiations
over their sovereign gaming rights
. Now the Seminoles are looking to
stretch that reach even further.

The
Seminoles Look to Online Gaming…

Since 2010, the Florida Seminoles have had
a compact with the State of Florida which grants them exclusive gaming rights
inside the Sunshine State. This compact, which paid 12% to the state on profits
up to $2 billion and 15% on profits over $2 billion, was renewed in 2015 by
then-Governor Rick Scott (it was originally negotiated and enacted by Governor
Charlie Crist). The compact has been a fitful one, however, as Florida has
expanded gaming in other areas.

Dog and horse racing, long a part of the
Florida landscape, were threatened by the Seminole dominance in casino gaming
(otherwise known as Class III gaming) and wanted something for themselves. They
were first allowed to deal poker in the mid-2000s and, in 2010, saw the limits
removed from their games to allow for No Limit poker to be dealt. This brought
a windfall to these poker rooms and the Seminole Indian casinos that dealt
poker also.

Now the Seminoles are looking to the
future and that future is online gaming. New negotiations for the compact
between the Seminoles and the state of Florida are underway under new Governor
Ron DeSantis and it seems there is plenty to discuss. The Seminoles are looking
to take exclusive rights for online gaming and other table games, but those new
gaming options are going to come at a price.

…But
is the Price Too High?

Dog and horse tracks have been creeping
into the Seminoles virtual monopoly on gaming by dealing “house banked” games
such as blackjack and three-card poker (the poker rooms are arguably
circumventing the laws by making a player at the table the “house” rather than
the casino). These games have long been the domain of the Seminoles and have
been a huge bone of contention between the tribe and state officials. The
racing tracks – which will see dog racing end in 2020 after a constitutional
amendment was voted through in 2018 – need revenues and, if the Seminoles are
wanting the rights to online gaming, these operations are wanting something for
their efforts.

The racetracks are looking for something
that could be a windfall to those operations. Long a host for pari-mutuel
betting on horse and harness racing across the country, these outlets would be
allowed to offer sports betting if the new Seminole compact is signed.
Additionally, poker rooms at these establishments would be able to go 24/7 and be
able to offer and receive a 10% reduction on taxes for slot machines.

Seminoles
Dealing from Position of Power

The Seminoles are in the driver’s seat
with these negotiations because of the money they contribute to the state of
Florida. The compact between the two entities calls for more than a billion
dollars in revenues be paid from the Seminoles gaming operations to the state, money
that the state needs in its budget. The Seminoles also hamstrung the legislature
from being able to move on casino gaming with a constitutional resolution
passed in 2018.

That resolution, known then as Amendment
3, proposed that any further gaming actions in the Sunshine State would have to
go before the entirety of the state’s voters. If there were any moves for casino
gaming, they would have to earn 60% of the citizens’ vote to be able to move
forward. That resolution was passed by a wide margin in the November 2018 midterms
and etched in stone that any changes to gaming would have to go through the
vote of the people.

The Seminoles lobbied significantly for
the passage of this Amendment because it would have a direct impact on their
monopoly in the state – if a city could simply pass a law and erect a casino,
their exclusivity for gaming would be destroyed. They were joined by an
unlikely partner, the Disney Corporation, who fought for the Amendment because
it would protect their “family friendly” enclave in Orlando from casino gaming.
Between
the two, more than $35 million was spent
persuading the people of Florida
to vote for the Amendment, which they did under the auspices of “the people”
being in control of gambling.

Would Amendment 3 Fall Under Compact?

The big question is would any newly negotiated compact between the Seminoles and the Florida legislature need to be approved under the Amendment 3 constitutional law? Under the way the Amendment was written, the Florida legislature is barred from authorizing any other gaming without passing it through the people first, and the compact would have to be approved by the legislature and Governor DeSantis. But Florida politicians have shown a tendency in the past to ignore their constituency…could this be another occasion where such an act occurs?

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