An undated aerial shot of the Florida Everglades. (Photo/Florida Museum).
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Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law Thursday that could pump hundreds of millions of dollars into Florida’s struggling environment from an unlikely source: online gambling.

There’s just one catch. Opponents to Florida’s compact with the Seminole Tribe are hoping to get the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the deal.

Under the bill, passed by lawmakers this year, 96% of the proceeds from the lucrative compact worked out in 2021 would go to secure a wildlife corridor carved out of rural lands between the southern tip of Florida and the Panhandle as well as fight sea rise flooding and worsening impacts from climate change.

Of about $750 million in revenue expected every year, the law requires at least $100 million to be set aside for the corridor and another $100 million deposited into the Resilient Florida Trust Fund to deal with worsening flooding and sea level rise caused by climate change.

Another $100 million would be divvied up between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Department of Agriculture Services and state parks’ department to manage lands and fight invasive species like Burmese pythons.

Whatever is left would be used to address worsening water conditions around the state.

In his remarks, DeSantis dismissed the court battle.

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“We weren’t even a party to it,” he said. “It was a DC thing, but nevertheless got a negative outcome in the district court. And then it won on appeal. So the compact is in place and we’re getting revenue share and that’s good.”

But the owners of Magic City Casino say the deal gives the Seminole Tribe a monopoly for online gambling throughout Florida. They want U.S. justices to decide whether it violates the Florida Constitution, which only allows gambling on tribal lands under a compact granted through Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

In their request to the court to hear the case, Magic City wants the court to decide whether the gaming act would authorize a compact that essentially creates a monopoly; whether it violates online gambling laws by allowing internet sports betting where it’s otherwise prohibited; and whether Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland’s approval of the compact violates equal protection laws by making online gambling legal for the tribe while a felony for all others.

Last month, Magic City failed to persuade Florida’s Supreme Court that DeSantis and his Cabinet improperly exercised their authority when they agreed to the more expansive online gambling compact.

U.S. justices have given Magic City and the Interior Department until April 12 to make their case for why the court should consider the matter.

Jenny Staletovich

Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environmental Reporter. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.

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Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environmental Reporter. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.