Florida Legislature to reconvene for special gambling session

Florida

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida lawmakers will reconvene Monday for a special session to debate what could be the biggest expansion of the gaming industry in decades.

In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida signed a 30-year gambling deal that will bring legal sports betting to Florida and generate billions of dollars of new revenue for the state.

“To have an agreement like this which-is going to provide the state with a minimum of $500 million a year. That’s something I think is really important,” DeSantis said.

The deal must be approved by the Florida Legislature before it can become law. Lawmakers are expected to take up the issue when they convene for a special session Monday.

Seminole casinos, like the Hard Rock in Tampa, currently offer slot machines and card games against the dealer. Nine new bills filed Friday morning would rewrite Florida’s gambling laws to allow the Tribe to offer offer online sports betting, craps and Roulette at the Tribe and the state’s para-mutuel businesses, which include horse racing tracks, jai-alai arenas, and other sporting venues. It also allows the tribe to build more facilities on existing property.

“I agree this is something we’re not necessarily regulating or doing now, but it is occurring illegally in significant numbers. I think our country is seeing several billion dollars that are going out through that in an unregulated manner,” said Florida state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

It’s still unclear how the state will be able to regulate the new laws without voter approval. Amendment 3, which passed in 2018, gives Florida voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in Florida.”

“I think it does, and we’ll probably be in court for this if it passes,” said Florida state Senator Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

The deal, if made into law, would add billions to the state budget over the next 30 years.

“When all this federal money goes away, we’re going to see this wave of shortcomings in our budget, and we need this money for our next two budget cycles,” Cruz said.

Lawmakers say that money is crucial, especially after all the federal pandemic money stops coming down next year.

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