As sports betting, craps and roulette commence, Seminole Tribe to begin paying millions to the state

The Seminole Tribe will begin paying the state of Florida hundreds of millions of dollars as part of its 2021 gambling deal with Gov. DeSantis that legalizes sports betting, officials confirmed Friday, a day after the tribe celebrated the launch of sports betting, craps and roulette across South Florida.

Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and chairman of Hard Rock International, told The News Service of Florida on Friday that the tribe expects to pay the state at least $650 million over the next year as part of their 2021 gaming compact, which gave the tribe a monopoly on sports betting.

“The compact is now back in full force, and the tribe is abiding with the full terms of the compact,” Allen said. “It’s certainly our intention to comply with the compact in our relationship with the state. Obviously, we’re just launching all this stuff today.”

His comments come amid a week of festivities and despite two ongoing lawsuits, one before the state Supreme Court and one before the U.S Supreme Court, which seek to halt sports betting. Also on Friday, the tribe filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting DeSantis in the state lawsuit arguing that its interpretation of existing law “is rational and in keeping with existing legal principles.”

The lawsuit centers around an amendment known as Amendment 3, which requires 60% of voters to approve any expansion of casino gambling in the state.

West Flagler Associates, the group of betting companies challenging the compact, argues that mobile sports betting violates the amendment because it allows betting to take place off tribal lands; the 2021 compact deems online sports betting to take place on tribal lands because the servers accepting the bets are located there.

The tribe’s brief adds onto previous arguments by DeSantis’ office by pointing to six other states which it contends have “lawfully utilized this deeming approach to authorize online gaming” by determining it to take place where the bets are accepted rather than where they are sent. States cited in the brief include New Jersey, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Michigan and New York.

“The Legislature has authority to deem the initiation of online sports wagering to occur in one location or another as a matter of law, and Amendment 3 by its plain language did not alter or remove that authority,” the tribe argues. “In fact, it preserved it.”

The brief also echoes a previous motion filed by DeSantis’ office arguing that the amendment doesn’t apply because it makes an exception for agreements between the state and the tribe. The tribe originally lobbied for the amendment.

West Flagler must submit a reply by Dec. 21., after which the Florida Supreme Court could rule at any point, according to sports betting attorney Daniel Wallach.

Meanwhile, the U.S Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will review the case. West Flagler has until Feb. 8 to submit its petition before the court, which takes up less than one percent of cases, Allen pointed out at the morning festivities in Hollywood on Thursday.

“But if they do that, we’re certainly very optimistic about presenting our theory,” he added.

Allen did not specify when the tribe’s payments to the state would begin or how much the first payment would be besides saying they would fall under the terms of the compact.

The case before the Florida Supreme Court centers on sports betting and would not strike down the whole compact, Allen said Thursday, meaning about 80 percent of its “scope,” including craps and roulette, should remain.

Under the three-decade deal, signed by DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. and ratified by the legislature, the Seminoles agreed to pay Florida about $20 billion, including $2.5 billion over the first five years of the agreement. The amount would dip by $50 million a year if sports betting isn’t in effect, essentially guaranteeing the state an annual minimum payment of $450 million.

But the Seminoles appeared confident in the return of sports betting Thursday, inviting celebrities like Mike Tyson and Rick Ross to place their first bets at the Hollywood Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, while ads for the app decorated the walls.

On Friday, they celebrated a similar launch in Tampa. The games will begin at the Brighton and Immokalee casinos on Monday.

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