Florida Sports Betting Bills Filed for 2020 Session

Florida Sports Betting Bills Filed for 2020 Session

Three related sports betting bills were filed Monday in the Florida Senate, a key first step in a long road to legalized wagering in the nation’s third-most populated state. Bills from Sen. Jeff Brandes show lawmakers are still interested in sports betting when they return to Tallahassee for the 2020 session, but multiple major hurdles remain in the way.

Details of Bills

Should Florida pass the introduced sports betting bills as written currently, it would include many of the key structures that have bolstered some of the nation’s more-successful markets.

  • Online Access: Most significantly, the bill would permit mobile and online betting for eligible bettors age 21 and up who are physically located in the state. In New Jersey, one of the nation’s highest-grossing sports betting states, more than 85% of bets are placed online.
  • Multiple Skins: The primary bill doesn’t specify how many mobile offerings, or “skins,” would be permitted, but it does allow licensees to have “individually branded websites,” indicating there would be more than one skin allowed. Multiple skins allow increased competition, which aids consumers and the market at large.
  • Tax Rate: The proposed 15% tax rate on operator winnings is higher than the average 10% rate introduced in most other states, but likely isn’t high enough to limit operator interest as has been the case in Pennsylvania (36% effective rate) and Rhode Island (51%).
  • Oversight: The bill puts the state lottery in charge of running sports betting, which is just one of multiple factors that could anger Florida’s other gambling stakeholders.

Florida Gambling Background

As excited as Florida sports bettors may be about the new sports betting bills, they face some of the most substantial political hurdles of any state considering sports betting.

  • Seminoles Excluded: The bills make no mention of sports betting for casinos or the Native American tribes that operate the state’s largest gaming facilities. The politically powerful Seminole Tribe, which owns Hard Rock casinos in many of Florida’s major population centers, is sure to oppose any sports betting authorization that doesn’t include them.
  • Compact Still Controversial: The Seminole Tribe, which had contributed hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the state government in exchange for the exclusive right to offer most forms of casino gaming, is in the midst of a tense negotiation over its agreement (or compact) with the state. The outcome could very well shape the future of Florida gambling, including sports betting.
  • Constitutional Roadblock: The biggest hurdle is beyond lawmakers’ control. In 2018, voters approved a constitutional amendment that prohibits the legislature from passing any new gambling bill without voter approval. It would be difficult to argue sports betting isn’t subject to the amendment, presenting another hurdle before Floridians can place a legal sports wager.

What’s Next

The first concrete action steps on these bills won’t begin for another several months.

  • Next Steps: Lawmakers don’t reconvene until January. Nothing can happen on sports betting until then, if any action is taken at all — legislators will consider hundreds of bills, and sports betting may not be something they can (or want to) consider with their limited time during the 2020 session.
  • Negotiations Begin: The conversation around legal sports betting has been continuing off and on since the Supreme Court struck down the federal sports gambling bill in May 2018, but these bills assure it will at least continue in the months to come. Gambling stakeholders including the Seminoles, the lottery, the state’s poker rooms and horse tracks as well as elected officials will have to hash out how to proceed along the complex road to legalize sports wagering.
  • National Environment: With or without Florida, sports betting options will continue to expand when the 2020 legislative session begins. There could be as many as 19 states taking bets next year, with up to a dozen additional legislatures considering bills. The pressure will only increase for Florida to accept sports betting, or lose out on gambling dollars to an increasing number of states — a concern for a state that relies heavily on tourism for revenue.
  • Bottom Line: With its massive population base (and a far greater number of tourism visits) Florida is one of the main targets for the legal sports betting industry. With California facing similar logistical challenges and Texas not holding a 2020 legislative session, Florida will be arguably the most-watched state for legal sports betting next year.

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