Florida special legislative session on gambling starts Monday

Politics

TAMPA (WFLA) – Florida lawmakers will return to Tallahassee on Monday to consider nine new bills that would expand gambling in the state, bringing in billions of dollars over the next 30 years.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the compact with Seminole Tribe chief Marcellus Osceola, Jr. three weeks ago, calling it a historic deal.

“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.

Seminole casinos like the Hard Rock in Tampa currently offer slot machines and card games against the dealer, called banked card games, like blackjack.

The new deal would allow the tribe to offer craps, roulette, and sports betting including fantasy sports.

Florida Senate appropriations chairwoman Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) says this deal will fix years of outdated gaming legislation and bring the state in compliance with what the tribe perceived as a breach of contract.

“So you’ve got the tribe not participating in the way they have in the past, and in addition you’ve got pari-mutuels providing games that I think many [people] do not want us to provide,” said Stargel. “So doing nothing is not really a solution.”

State Senator Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) said this is the perfect time to pass this legislation, because it’s not an election year and the money it brings in will help the budget when federal Covid dollars go away.

“We’re gonna see this wave of shortcomings in our budget, and we need this money for our next two budget cycles,” said Cruz. “It’ll be very different without these federal dollars.”

However, the deal may violate a 2018 constitutional amendment passed by voters.

Amendment 3, entitled “Voter Control of Gambling in Florida,” passed with 71.5% support in 2018, the second-most popular amendment on a long ballot featuring 12 total amendments.

The amendment “ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution.”

“I think it does, and we’ll probably be in court for this as soon as it passes, if it passes,” said Sen. Cruz. “I worry a lot about that. The state will spend millions of dollars to argue their case, there will be so much money on both sides, but ultimately the taxpayer loses out.”

The special session begins Monday at 2 p.m. and is expected to last 3-5 days.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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