TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF/AP) — As lawmakers prepare to decide whether to approve a $2.5 billion gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the tribe is trying to calm concerns about part of the agreement that could open the door to the legalization of online betting in the state.

Florida lawmakers reconvene Monday for a special session to consider a new 30-year gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe that would expand gambling and legalize sports betting in the country’s third most populous state.

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Parimutuel operators would also be able to conduct sports betting through revenue-sharing agreements with the tribe.

But the fate of the new compact is uncertain because of opposition from some business groups and legislative conservatives who object to expanding gambling on moral grounds and because of concerns over increased crime.

Miami-Dade community leaders, including Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Armando Codina, Founder and Executive Chairman of Codina Partners, LLC have scheduled a news conference Monday afternoon to reject the 2021 gaming compact, because they claim the very character of Florida is at stake.

The online betting provision has drawn major scrutiny which prompted the tribe to issue a letter assuring that the language in the compact is benign.

“The question that has been asked is whether the tribe would have a remedy if the state failed to negotiate such an amendment or to negotiate in good faith. The simple answer is that the tribe would not have a remedy,” Osceola wrote Wednesday to DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson in a letter obtained by The News Service of Florida.

The provision in the compact “is simply an agreement to continue discussions about online gaming, but there is no enforcement mechanism if the state fails to engage in such discussions,” Osceola wrote. The Seminoles would not be able to seek enforcement of the provision from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal compacts, Osceola said.

The Seminoles “will not attempt to enforce” the online gaming section of the compact through litigation, the federal government “or any other means,” the tribal leader said.

“As you know, the tribe has always kept its word in its dealings with the state,” he added. The letter said the Seminoles hope, however, that the state would “discuss the matter of online gaming … on a government-to-government basis” in the future.

“However, such an agreement will require further negotiations between the parties and approval by the Florida Legislature,” Osceola concluded.

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Opposition to the pact is increasing among some Republican House members, conservative leaders, some gambling experts, and the No Casinos organization, which backed a 2018 constitutional amendment that required statewide voter approval of future expansions of gambling in Florida.

Proponents of what is known as Amendment 3 maintain that the compact would violate the constitutional amendment unless voters statewide sign off on legalizing sports betting in Florida. Supporters of the compact contend that sports wagers would be handled by servers on tribal lands and, as a result, would not require a referendum.

The gambling deal would give the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years and at least $6 billion from the Tribe by 2030. State officials say the pact would create 2,200 new jobs.

If the Legislature ratifies the agreement reached last month by the Tribe and Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Seminoles would be allowed to offer sports gambling at their casinos in South Florida and near Tampa. The tribe will also be allowed to introduce craps and roulette at its seven casinos, including the popular Hard Rock near Fort Lauderdale. And it would allow the tribe to add three additional facilities within its Hollywood Reservation.

The gaming industry has been a boon for the Seminoles. It has used its profits to pays its 4,100 members more than $100,000 annually and owns the Hard Rock brand worldwide.

The Legislature has set aside a week to consider the compact but hopes to complete its work as soon as Wednesday. It also must be approved by the Seminole tribal council and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling operations.

The Seminoles, invoking their sovereignty as a tribal nation, began their gambling operations with a high-stakes bingo parlor in 1979 and have been expanding ever since, adding slot machines, poker, blackjack and other card games.

Miami billionaire Norman Braman has vowed to challenge the compact in court if it is approved by the Legislature, arguing that elements of the compact would violate a 2018 initiative that put restrictions on the expansion of casino-style gambling.

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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