Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Allies with Card Clubs, Racinos Over Seminoles


Posted on: March 19, 2021, 12:01h. 

Last updated on: March 19, 2021, 12:13h.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) says his administration is in discussions with the Seminole Tribe. The talks are regarding a potential solution to resolve gaming issues with the powerful Native American casino operator. But the Republican explains that he isn’t willing to reach a new deal with the tribe that does harm to card clubs and pari-mutuel racinos. 

Florida DeSantis Seminole casino
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks last month in Bradenton. The governor says gaming compact discussions with the state’s Seminole Tribe continue, but there’s no guarantee of a resolution. (Image: Bradenton Herald)

The Seminoles in 2019 suspended sharing gaming revenue from their six casinos in Florida. The tribe contends that so-called “designated player” card games offered at pari-mutuel facilities throughout the state run afoul of their legal gaming privileges. 

As a result, Florida has missed out on some $700 million in gaming money generated by Seminole and Hard Rock casinos. DeSantis says the negotiations with the Seminoles will end “within the next week or so,” regardless of whether a new Class III gaming compact is reached. 

However, the emerging GOP star says he represents the people of Florida — not the tribe’s economic businesses — and will therefore side in what he believes is the best interest of the state. 

Designated Player Controversy

The Seminole Tribe prefers to keep its business dealings private, and rarely issues public statements regarding its gaming matters in Florida. The tribe has long maintained a monopoly on house-banked card games such as blackjack, roulette, craps, and baccarat. 

However, card clubs, along with jai alai and dog track racinos, have carved out a loophole to allow such games to operate at their venues, albeit in slightly different manners. Instead of having a table game dealer representing the house, in player designated games each player at the table takes turns acting as the house.

Designated player games have been the subject of legal arguments for years. 

Ultimately, I don’t represent the Seminoles. I represent Florida businesses and employees,” DeSantis said today. “We want to make sure those folks are able to do well under whatever arrangement may be reached between the state of Florida and the nation of the Seminole Indian tribe. 

“We will see what comes. Within the next week or so, I think we’ll know whether we have a path to have an agreement, or whether that agreement may remain elusive going forward,” the governor explained.

Complicated Matters

Florida has one of the most complex legal gaming landscapes. 

Only the Seminoles can operate house-banked table games. The tribe, along with the Miccosukee Tribe, which owns and operates one small casino near the eastern edge of the Everglades, also own a near monopoly on slot machines. However, two counties — Miami-Dade and Broward — permit slot machines at certain pari-mutuel racinos.

There’s also a legislative effort underway to allow slot machine licensees in those two counties to transfer their gaming rights to other locations. The Trump family has expressed interest in incorporating a casino at Trump National Doral.  

“Wildly complex,” is how House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater) summarized the Florida tribal and commercial gaming industries.