Gov. DeSantis signs huge expansion of gambling in FL sans fanfare

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida reach a gaming compact April 23, 2021. The document is signed by DeSantis and Marcellus W. Osceola , Jr., chairman of the Tribal Council. Credit: Governor's press office.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has quietly signed legislation ratifying his gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which would bring sports betting to Florida plus craps, roulette, and similar casino games if the federal government approves.

The governor, who invited no press to his office when he signed the Seminole Gaming Compact with tribe chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. on April 23, allowing legislative leaders to announce the accomplishment, sent word that he’d signed the legislation via a press release that landed at 5:24 p.m. on Monday.

The Legislature approved the compact during a three-day special session last week.

For all that DeSantis hid his lamp beneath a bushel, the deal guarantees a $2.5 billion share of gambling proceeds to the state during the first five of its 30-year term.

That’s presuming the compact receives the necessary endorsement by the U.S. Department of the Interior of a legal assumption embedded in the agreement — that bets made via cellphones across the state are legal because the servers are located on Seminole land. Backers refer to this arrangement as “hub and spoke.”

Interior has never signed off on such an arrangement before, although legislation allowing it has been posited in Congress.

Additionally, opponents of casino gambling have promised a lawsuit because they believe the compact violates Amendment 3, the 2018 state constitutional amendment requiring a referendum to extend gambling.

However, language in the compact would allow the rest of the deal to take effect if hub-and-spoke is struck down.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.