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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has reached a multibillion-dollar deal with the state of Florida that will allow the tribe to build three new casinos at the massive Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino resort, with exclusive rights to roulette, craps and sports betting in the state.

The deal, ratified by the Florida Legislature on May 19, also opens the door for former President Donald Trump to pursue a casino license at his Trump National Doral Miami golf resort and for billionaire Jeffrey Soffer to do the same at his Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, without opposition from the tribe.

The agreement, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, May 25, is believed to be the largest and most expansive gaming compact with a tribe in the U.S. The deal is expected to generate $2.5 billion in new revenue for the state over the next five years, and an estimated $6 billion through 2030.

“It is a historic and mutually-beneficial partnership between the State and Seminole Tribe that will positively impact all Floridians for decades to come,” Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said in a statement.

Osceola unveiled the agreement with DeSantis earlier this month.

“This historic compact expands economic opportunity, tourism, and recreation, and bolsters the fiscal success of our state in one fell swoop for the benefit of all Floridians and Seminoles alike,” said DeSantis, a Republican and Trump ally.

“Our agreement establishes the framework to generate billions in new revenue and untold waves of positive economic impact.”

The deal must still be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Sports betting could not begin before Oct. 15, 2021, under terms of the agreement, and legal challenges are expected.

Sweeping overhaul

The deal is viewed as a major achievement for DeSantis and the Seminole tribe as the state looks to take advantage of growing online and sports gambling markets in the South.

Lawmakers said DeSantis pushed for the overhaul of state gaming laws and personally negotiated with Seminole leaders.

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For years, Florida has limited higher stakes gambling to the Seminole and Miccosukee tribal casinos. Gambling interests in and outside of Florida, however, have been trying to open the state up to more casinos and other games for years.

The Seminole hotel in Hollywood, Florida, is known as The Guitar Hotel, for its distinctive architecture.

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The guitar-shaped hotel is seen at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in Hollywood, Florida. The Guitar Hotel's grand opening is on the tribe's land in Hollywood. It's the latest step in the Seminole Hard Rock empire, which includes naming rights on the Miami-area stadium where the 2020 Super Bowl will be played. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The Seminole reached a deal with Florida in 2010 that gave the tribe exclusive rights to slot machines in the state except in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, officials said. The tribe also won exclusive rights to offer blackjack and other card games banked by the house.

The tribe stopped paying revenue shares to the state in 2019, however, after a federal judge ruled the state had violated the terms by allowing games at card rooms, officials said.

In 2015, then-Gov. Rick Scott reached another deal but it failed to win legislative approval.

Under the latest deal, the tribe is expected to pay the state an average of about $500 million a year. A provision also bars the tribe from interfering if the state issues a gambling license to a facility more than 15 miles “in a straight line” from the tribe’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood.

Both Trump’s Doral golf resort and the famed oceanfront Fontainebleau Hotel — where the James Bond “Goldfinger” movie was filmed — could gain casino licenses.

Doral, which Trump purchased in 2012 and then reportedly spent $250 million renovating, is slightly more than 15 miles away from the Seminole resort.

Eric Trump, who recently moved to Jupiter, Florida, has managed the company since his father took office in 2017.

Looking ahead

Supporters say the agreement modernizes the gaming industry in Florida by authorizing sports betting through the tribe. Bets could be placed via cell phone, but tribal leaders have agreed that workers would be based on tribal lands.

By some estimates, sports betting is expected to create more than 2,200 new jobs.

DeSantis' signing of the deal on Tuesday kicks off a 45-day period in which the Interior Department will consider approving the agreement. If the department does nothing, the agreement will go into effect.

The Interior Department has approved similar measures. On Monday, May 24, the department approved an updated tribal gaming contract in Arizona, making gambling on sporting events and online fantasy sports legal in the state. It also opened up new options at tribal casinos.

The Ariona deal also allows major professional sports groups to offer betting on pro football and basketball, for example.

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