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Florida Senate approves gaming compact as opponents rally for its defeat

'Obey the constitution,' No Casinos President John Sowinski says
Posted at 4:45 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 17:10:45-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Halfway there.

The Florida Senate approved a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe on Tuesday.

Though some lawmakers said the deal could have been better for the state, the upper chamber was nearly unanimous in its support, approving the measure 38 to 1.

"This compact is going to bring in billions of dollars that we can use however we want to," said Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast. "Either to plug budget holes, or work on education, or health care, or more resiliency."

State Sen. Travis Hutson speaks about the approval of the new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe on May 18, 2021
State Sen. Travis Hutson speaks in support of the new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.

If ratified and approved by federal regulators, the 30-year compact guarantees Florida $2.5 billion in the first five years.

The tribe would get to expand its six gaming operations with craps and roulette, a chance to build three new facilities on its Hollywood reservation and manage mobile sports betting for the state.

The only no vote came from Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who felt Florida was creating a monopoly.

"Sometimes we have to say the state of Florida and portions of our economy are not for sale just to the highest bidder," Brandes said. "That other people are able to compete because that's what Florida is about."

State Sen. Jeff Brandes
State Sen. Jeff Brandes was the only senator to vote against the gaming compact.

There was more opposition outside the Capitol.

Members of Florida Family Action, a conservative values advocacy group, traveled from across the state to call for the deal's defeat. People like Jeanne Pernia traveled eight hours to rally. She worried the agreement would increase crime and gaming addiction.

“We already have issues with crime and all that," she said. "It's just another open door."

Florida casinos protest held at the Capitol on May 18, 2021
Protesters outside the Florida Capitol held a rally in opposition to the gaming compact.

Other concerns were constitutional. Though supporters continued to say the deal's connection to the tribe exempts it, some believe it violates Amendment 3, which requires voter approval.

"Obey the constitution," said No Casinos President John Sowinski. "Abide by the will of the people and Florida will be better for it."

Final legislative approval hinges on the House, where a more diverse collection of lawmakers sit. But will that mean more opposition? Florida finds out later this week.

House members are expected to take a floor vote Wednesday.