Ante up: Florida’s gambling deal opens the door for online poker and blackjack

Florida’s sweeping gambling deal wouldn’t just bring sports betting to the Sunshine State: It also opens the door for online poker, blackjack and other games.

But Floridians could get to do even more gambling under another item near the end of the 75-page agreement. Under a “miscellaneous section,” Florida agreed to negotiate in “good faith” for the Seminole Tribe to offer online versions of all of its casino games.

A lot needs to happen to get to that point, and several political and legal hurdles remain.

The Legislature will take up the gambling agreement during a special session that starts on May 17. If the Legislature approves, the federal government must sign off on the deal, which some legal analysts don’t think is a sure bet.

If approved, the agreement is clear the Seminoles would control sports betting. But the Seminoles and the state would need to return to the bargaining table within three years to authorize online gambling for other casino games.

If the two sides agree on an amendment and it passes legal scrutiny, Floridians could start legally betting on poker and other games on their cellphones and computers without ever stepping foot in a casino.

Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming, said one important factor to consider is online gambling is already happening illegally in Florida.

“It is all around us,” Allen said during an interview with the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board. “It is everywhere with all of these offshore companies. Why not make sure there is integrity in the process?”

If the deal is approved, Florida would be able to capture some of the revenue generated through sports betting. The state would be guaranteed at least $500 million a year in new revenue.

The deal envisions online sports betting that would be similar to other states, where gamblers could place bets on their cellphones, Allen said.

“You could be in your car or in your living room and place a bet on your mobile phone,” he said. “You do not have to be in one of the authorized gaming facilities.”

Other provisions would allow the tribe to offer craps and roulette at its seven casinos in Florida, including at its Hard Rock properties in Tampa and Hollywood.

It also could pave the way for a cluster of casinos in Broward County, with up to three new casinos permitted on the tribe’s Hollywood reservation. The property is home to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which includes a towering guitar-shaped South Florida landmark.

The Guitar Hotel at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood is a South Florida landmark.

The Guitar Hotel at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood is a South Florida landmark. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Opposition is lining up to try to scuttle the gambling agreement.

John Sowinski, president of the No Casinos anti-gambling group, vowed to fight to defeat the deal, saying only voters can approve sports betting and new casino games.

Amendment 3, approved in 2018, stipulated that a citizens’ initiative requiring at least 60% support from voters is “the exclusive method of authorizing casino gambling” in Florida.

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“This would be the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida history,” Sowinski said.

Supporters of sports betting say the deal is legal because it would be handled by the Seminole Tribe with bets running through computer servers on tribal lands, a setup that they say is allowed by Amendment 3.

DeSantis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, said Friday after signing the agreement the tribe and the state will “vigorously” defend legal challenges.

The goal is to get sports betting up and running by football season, DeSantis said in a recording of the deal signing obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

“I am not somebody that does much in terms of betting, but maybe I go over [in] August to Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa and place a wager on the Bucs repeating as Super Bowl champions,” he said.

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