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Survey concludes Florida voters want a say in expanding Seminole games

Published: May 5, 2021, 10: 58 hrs.

Last updated: May 5, 2021, 11: 30 hrs.

Devin O'Connor

A new poll shows a majority of Florida voters want to say whether the state should allow the Seminole tribe to expand its gaming privileges.

Florida gaming expansion DeSantis Seminole
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signs new Class III game conditions as Seminole president Marcellus Osceola Jr. looks on. But a poll shows voters in the state want a say on the refreshed game conditions. (Photo: Florida News Service )

Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (right) and the Seminole tribe signed an agreement that marks the largest expansion of gambling in the Sunshine State in decades.

Under the new Class III gaming compact, the tribe would be allowed to operate online sports betting, craps, roulette and sports betting in its traditional casinos , and the Native American group could build as many as three new casinos on sovereign land.

DeSantis and the Seminole agreement requires approval from the state legislature. If that happens, DeSantis will sign the official document and then the agreement will be sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior for final ratification.

But some lawmakers believe the state must get voter approval to allow online gaming.

Florida residents seek input

Almost immediately after DeSantis and the tribe announced the compact gaming expansion, legal critics questioned the validity of the online betting component. Florida law requires that all Class III gaming be conducted exclusively on the Seminoles' sovereign land. Class III gaming includes slot machines, table games and sports betting.

According to opponents, mobile sports betting violates this condition. Proponents argue that because the sports betting servers would have to be located on sovereign land, this is not true.

A survey of 800 likely voters in Florida found that a percentage of those surveyed believe they should have the final say not only on the subject of mobile sports betting - but on the entire new Class III Compact. Only 13 percent said they support allowing the Florida Legislature and DeSantis to set the new gaming terms.

In 2018, Florida residents supported a ballot referendum that amended the state constitution to give people the power to determine the future of gambling.

"Floridians spoke loud and clear in 2018 when they voted violently for Amendment 3 to put gambling in Florida in the hands of Floridians instead of gambling lobbyists and politicians. This poll shows that they feel as strongly about this as ever and clearly understand that this new agreement violates the letter and spirit of that amendment, "said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, an organization that opposes further expansion of gambling in Florida.

The poll also asked whether the DeSantis and Seminole Treaty "is blatantly unconstitutional." Sixty-six percent said "yes." Only 15 percent said "no."

DeSantis Defends

Jim McLaughlin and Rob Schmidt, who conducted the gaming survey, say many Florida residents are concerned about the state's authority to authorize online sports betting.

"The majority of voters believe that the Accord believes that having a center computer system where online gambling takes place on tribal property constitutes gambling because being on tribal lands does not pass the 'smell test,'" McLaughlin explained to Rob Schmidt.

But the governor says some are simply delaying the inevitable, and that online sports betting is already being organized in the state through illegal offshore sites.

"It [mobile sports betting] is operated by the Tribe, it operates on tribal lands and I think it meets Amendment 3," DeSantis said. "If anyone wants to deny it, both the tribe and the state will defend the agreement."

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