Seminole Gaming CEO praises gambling deal as ‘$500 million solution’

Allen, 60, has more than four decades of experience in the gambling industry, and the tribe’s casino operations have expanded in Florida, throughout the country and internationally under his tenure at Seminole Gaming.

TALLAHASSEE — Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and chairman of Hard Rock International, has steered the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s casino operations for two decades.
But his biggest coup might be a 30-year agreement, known as a “compact,” that includes opening the door to sports betting in Florida.

Allen was instrumental in nailing down the deal between Gov. Ron DeSantis and tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. in April and persuading lawmakers to approve the plan during a special legislative session last month.

Under the compact, the Seminoles have agreed to pay the state $2.5 billion over the first five years in exchange for having control over online sports betting throughout Florida. The tribe also will get other benefits, such as being able to offer craps and roulette at its casinos.

The sports-betting provision, however, is expected to be challenged in court. In addition, the U.S. Department of the Interior must approve the compact, and some experts say the agreement runs afoul of federal law authorizing gambling operations on tribal lands.

Allen, 60, has more than four decades of experience in the gambling industry, and the tribe’s casino operations have expanded in Florida, throughout the country and internationally under his tenure at Seminole Gaming.

News Service of Florida had these questions for Jim Allen. Answers have been edited for clarity and space.

Q: You’ve been trying to finalize a revised compact with state leaders for at least five years but have encountered roadblocks in the executive or legislative branches. What made the difference this year?

ALLEN: You know, I think that, in any piece of legislation, whether it be here in Florida or any state, I just think that’s part of the normal process, getting the three branches of government to come together. I do think, to be fair, the tribe’s revenue share being reinstated — you know, they can obviously generate billions of dollars for the state of Florida — and our desire to do that was the initial first step.

I do think that when COVID obviously shocked the world, and how much budget deficits may or may not occur, whether it be in the state of Florida or so many states, and the unknown, as to how much assistance would come from the federal government, I do think that also contributed to both parties saying, let’s look at a situation that, if the tribe reopens, obviously gets back to its previous business levels, there can be a ... $500 million-a-year solution.

Q: Could you describe how online sports betting could shape Florida’s gambling environment?

ALLEN: Well, obviously Florida is a very large state with a population that’s projected to increase. So I do think there’s upside that, if sports betting is deemed to be legal through all the different challenges that may or may not occur, it’s clearly a business that has a lot of potential and upside. Our problem is that if you look at the illegal sports betting in online gaming sites, there are billions of dollars that’s occurring on an annual basis already from the citizens of the state of Florida.

So part of our message to the leadership of the state was it’s happening anyway. It’s not regulated. Many, many times these sites are just a magnet for offshore activity that may or may not include money laundering and many other illegal activities. So why not offer the product, because clearly the citizens have told us they want it.

Q: What’s your vision for the Seminoles’ casino operations in Florida over the next 30 years, the duration of the compact?

ALLEN: I think that question has two different answers. One is obviously, what happens through this legal process that most likely will commence sometime in the next 60 days to six months. So based upon that, that will drive a decision on [the] strategy that certainly will affect the online sports betting market.

And then, obviously, the expansion of the land-based business, I think it’s a little premature to say when that may occur because fundamentally we’re still living in a COVID environment and fundamentally there’s still a lot of people receiving subsidies from the state or the federal government and many of these will expire the latter part of this month and, at least at this time, many more expiring in September. So I think there needs to be a true leveling off of the COVID impact.

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