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Legislative loose ends remain as Florida lawmakers return home following special gaming session

'The money is endless in terms of where we could plug these holes,' Sen. Travis Hutson says
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Posted at 5:19 PM, May 20, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Though lawmakers ratified the new Seminole gaming compact -- they left a couple of big issues on the table before heading home following this week's special session.

The legislative loose ends could impact Floridians for years to come, now likely to be addressed in the 2022 lawmaking year.

One of the most impactful provisions in the 30-year deal is a guaranteed $2.5 billion for the state over the first five years and billions more in the years after.

Even though some lawmakers tried to address where those dollars might go, leadership shot them down during Wednesday's final floor session.

"There's a reason we didn't put that in the call," said House Speaker Chris Sprowls. "What we wanted to focus on today, the conversations around gaming. That's going to be for the appropriations process."

House Speaker Chris Spowls
House Speaker Chris Sprowls speaks about the new gaming compact passed by Florida lawmakers.

In rejected amendments, however, House Democrats tipped their hand on ideas. They pushed for funding affordable housing programs, mental health services, domestic violence victims, even paying off court fees and fines to restore felon voting rights.

"The money is endless in terms of where we could plug these holes," said Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, defending the compact on the Senate floor Tuesday.

But Hutson, who managed the deal in the upper chamber, said he's now thinking about more than the money. He plans to file a 2022 bill to regulate fantasy sports betting in the state after running out of time in the special session.

Stae Sen. Travis Hutson
State Sen. Travis Hutson plans to offer a bill next year to regulate fantasy sports betting.

Hutson said he worries without rules a soon-to-be-established gaming commission will end the unregulated pastime.

"I want to continue to do fantasy sports, but when you set up a gaming commission, you now have a fantasy contest happening that's not licensed under the state," Hutson said. "I'm worried the gaming commission could go in there and shut them down."

He said to expect other gaming issues to surface next year, as well. That includes allowing bingo at racetracks and perhaps more tweaks to the Seminole compact.

Federal regulators still need to approve the deal before it can take effect.

The U.S. Department of the Interior will have 45 days to review and decide once the governor signs off. A spokesperson with the department declined to offer initial thoughts on the agreement.