Florida’s lawmakers begin special session on sports betting, gaming

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s lawmakers began a special session Monday dealing with a proposed 30-year, $2.5 Billion, gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The proposal would bring sports betting to Florida and allow the tribe to offer craps and roulette at its casinos.

The bill would also allow the Seminole tribe to build more casinos on its land near Ft. Lauderdale.

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Action News Jax reached out to Bestbet of Jacksonville for comment on its stance on the proposal.

“Bestbet continues to closely monitor the legislation actions related to our industry and at this time we have no specific comment as this is a fluid situation,” said Bestbet president, Jamie Shelton. Bestbet customer, Morris Bates, likes the idea of bringing sports betting to Florida. It’s going to bring more money to the economy,” said Bates. “… People are doing it anyway, I’ll put it that way. So, if you make it legal, it’s a good deal.”

The proposal would allow the Seminole tribe of Florida to have control of sports betting throughout the state.

Meanwhile, other pari-mutuels could operate sports betting through revenue sharing agreements with the Tribe.

House leaders announced a change to the proposal Monday, saying a plan allowing the Seminoles and the State to negotiate all types of online games has been removed.

Chairman of the House Select Committee on Gaming, State Rep. Randy Fine (R) of Brevard County, says the chance of opening the door for online slot machines was a deal breaker for many members.

“There were many members that were like, ‘I don’t care what else is in the Compact. If there is a path to online slot machines, I am out’. So, now you’ll have a lot of members take another look at the deal,” said Fine.

State Rep. Clay Yarborough (R) of Jacksonville, says he’s against any gaming expansion in Florida.

“We’ve seen studies that even show the effect of gambling on individuals could have the same effect as alcohol and crack. It’s very addictive. It’s something that can be bad for an individual’s finances and their families and things of that nature,” said Yarborough.

Florida Family Policy Council President and Attorney, John Stemberger of Orlando, tells Action News Jax the agency’s coordinating with several groups to bus hundreds of people from Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami and Orlando, to Tallahassee to protest the measure on Tuesday.

“We’re very concerned about the expansion of casinos in Florida,” said Stemberger. “Casinos have the effect of cannibalizing local businesses like restaurants and hotels … It doesn’t produce wealth. It basically preys upon and manipulates the poor, and the weak, and advantages the rich.”

Other agencies planning to take part in Tuesday’s protest include, ‘No Casinos,’ an organization which backed constitutional Amendment 3 in 2018.

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Some opponents of the proposal say it violates the amendment, which requires statewide voter approval of gambling expansions.

In response to criticism on Amendment 3, supporters say the compact would be handled by servers on tribal lands and would not require a referendum.