Coronavirus May Push Online Gambling Legislation In Florida

Coronavirus May Push Online Gambling Legislation In Florida

Legislators in Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida are attempting to forge a sports betting agreement that could help make up for budget shortfalls as the state braces for more confirmed coronavirus cases.

This week’s late attempt at a new agreement comes before the 60-day legislative session ends on March 13, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The report says the deal could bring $500 million to the state in the first year and $700 million annually thereafter.

New forms of tax revenue are precious and legal sports betting could apparently become one in Florida, like it has in states where the practice is now legal and underway. These states have taken advantage of sports betting revenue to close budget gaps and to help fund education, infrastructure and environment initiatives, among others.

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Florida and other states could have unforeseen costs as they battle the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, which began in China and has spread worldwide.

The possible agreement passes for progress In a state where legalizing sports betting is entwined in the Seminoles’ Compact, or governmental contract to offering various types of wagering. Disparate racing interests and a constitutional amendment designed to limit the expansion of gaming have also been obstacles.

Multiple news outlets reported this week that the Seminoles, who own the massive Hard Rock International hotel and casino chain, would pay the $500 million in the first year. It would rise to $700 million annually after the first year and the Seminoles would have an effective monopoly on offering mobile sports betting and the right to offer online casino.

Offering online sports betting and casino would be a huge expansion of the compact. Players could place bets on online sites from anywhere in the state, according to the Sun-Sentinel report.

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In states where sports betting and casino or poker can be played from the safety of a living room via computer or mobile device, the effect of dealing with a revenue shortfall from an unexpected outbreak like the coronavirus could be lessened.

The proposed online gambling expansion in Florida could help other states accelerate the shift to digital. It’s becoming clear that online sports betting could increase tax revenue like in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania, states where 85 percent of sports betting revenue comes from mobile. Regulating online sports betting could help with budget shortfalls, especially when unexpected costs hit.

Will Florida Legalize Sports Betting This Time?

The proposal being discussed would also allow pari-mutuel tracks to continue offering the so-called “designated player” card games that the Seminoles have contended was their exclusive right. The tribe stopped making $350 million yearly payments to the state in May of 2019 out of protest and sports betting seemed a dead issue in Florida when legislators wrote that money out of the subsequent budget.

A special session to address gambling expansion is a possibility.

“I hope we get to a deal there. But again, I'd rather have a good deal and do it a few days later, or even you can even bring people back potentially, than try to force things under an artificial timeline,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters this week.

Pessimism remains in Tallahassee, however.

"Sports wagering legislation this session is highly unlikely,” said attorney Marc Dunbar, a shareholder with Dean Mead.

Legislators and the Seminoles must still hash out whether the pieces they are negotiating are even in play after the passage of Amendment 3, which put gambling expansion in the hands of voters after passing with 71% of the vote in 2018. Dunbar said Amendment 3 does impact sports betting implementation "if offered via the Tribe via a compact.”

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