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Florida, Seminole Tribe Talk Sports Betting

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Talks between Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby, FL) and the Seminole Tribe could bring sports betting to Florida possibly bypassing the need of a statewide referendum. Simpson, who is lined up to be the Senate president after the 2020 elections, is negotiating a revenue-sharing compact where the tribe would pay Florida for the rights to operate specific kinds of gambling.

According to published reports, Simpson is negotiating the possibility that sports betting would be allowed at the state’s horse and dog tracks plus jai alai frontons. The Seminoles would become the conduit for sports betting, getting a portion of money bet outside their facilities while also running a sportsbook in their casinos.

However, there are hurdles to overcome before Floridians can walk up to a kiosk and place a bet on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Florida Panthers.

“Designated player” games offered at pari-mutuel cardrooms are important to any deal struck – they also could be problematic. Those existing games, such as blackjack, according to the tribe and a federal judge, infringe on the exclusivity promised to the Seminoles in a 2010 agreement with Florida.

In the arrangement between Florida and the tribe, which expires May 31, the Seminoles pay $350 million for enforcement on how the games are played. The Florida legislative session ends May 3.

In published reports, the tribe has requested stricter enforcement of the original agreement and state officials concur.

To appease cardrooms that will be affected by that enforcement, bingo is being offered as a bandage. It’s still up in the air as to whether bingo is the answer considering the anticipated revenue loss from the high-stakes “designated player” games.

Something pari-mutuel facilities could get behind would be allowing sports betting a dog and horse tracks and jai alai frontons. But even sports wagers with bingo likely won’t offset the loss of card games.

There is still the question of running sports betting through the tribe is enough to get around the recently enacted law that puts expansion of “games typically found in casinos” into the hands of citizens and not the Legislature.

Simpson told CBS Media he thinks a referendum won’t be necessary.

But right now, the clock is ticking on whether an agreement can be struck before the end of the session.

Lobbyist Brian Ballard, who represents the interest of several sports leagues and pari-mutuels, thinks with time winding down it might prompt concessions.

“You have to have time pressures to make gaming deals, so three weeks left in session is beginning to put that level of pressure on. I think you need those things, otherwise the parties won’t come together,” he told Tampa Bay Business Journal.

House Speaker Jose Oliva, too, thinks there is still time for an agreement on gambling.

“It depends on what the nature of that agreement will be because some of that will require a lot of back-and-forth,” Oliva said. “But I think that there is still time.”