Florida Closer to Sports Betting After Senate OKs Gaming Compact

Florida Closer to Sports Betting After Senate OKs Gaming Compact
© USA Today

The full Florida Senate on Tuesday approved a historic gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe that would allow sports betting in the nation’s third-most populous state.

The full Senate vote to approve the compact was 38-1. Legislators are meeting in special session this week in Tallahassee debate the compact and a series of related bills concerning gambling in the Sunshine State. Two bills concerning bingo and fantasy sports failed to get out of committee.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Seminole Gaming Compact also approved the compact on Monday. The full House does not have a session scheduled Tuesday. It will continue to review the other related bills via committee and meet in full session Wednesday. Both the full House and Senate must approve the compact for sports betting to occur in Florida.

If sports betting is legalized, Florida, with 21.48 million people, would be the most populated state to enact the practice since the 2018 Supreme Court decision that legalized it. New York has a population of about 19.45 million. California and Texas have more people, but are not close to legalizing sports betting.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: The Future of Sports Betting In Florida

Legal sports betting in Florida would begin no earlier than Oct. 15.

Although there was a torrent of pre-session talk about the potential legislative pitfalls for both the compact and the other gambling bills, each was approved by lopsided margins by committees in both the Senate and House.

Two potential legislative roadblocks were removed before the special session began. A move to drop online casino gaming was agreed to by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who negotiated the April 23 compact, before the special session began on Monday.

In addition to online casino gaming being taken out of the compact, a bill that would have regulated fantasy sports in Florida died Tuesday when the House and Senate were not able to work out their differences. The bill (HB 9A/SB 16 A) would have made the minimum age 21 — up from 18 — to play fantasy sports for money in Florida. It would have also forced providers to pay a $1 million licensing fee and an annual $250,000 renewal fee. The bill died after an intense lobbying effort by DraftKings and FanDuel.

Last week, Senate president Wilton Simpson said current casino owners will not be allowed to transfer their licenses under any bill that passes in the special session. The owner of the Fontainebleau Resort had hoped to move his current license to a new to-be-built casino in Miami Beach. Donald Trump’s Doral Club also reportedly wanted to open a new casino on the site using the license of a current license-holder.

After Session, Still Steps to Take Before Betting Begins

The path to legal sports betting in Florida won’t end with the special session.

Any gambling deal with between Seminole Tribe and the state must also be approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), which is an independent federal agency, and the regulatory structure for Indian gaming in the U.S, before it can go into effect. The deal is automatically enacted if the NIGC does not reject it within 45 days.

Multiple lawsuits, too, are expected to be filed as soon as any deal is approved. In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 3, which prohibited the expansion of gambling in Florida without approval via referendum. A group called No Casinos has been leading the effort to halt the growth of all forms of betting in the state for several years. In recent days, TV ads sponsored by No Casinos have aired in Florida voicing opposition to the new compact and its associated legislation.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican party presidential nomination in 2016, has emerged as an opponent as well. He said in a statement that “now is not the time” to move forward on a new compact.

The Seminole Tribe has been airing TV ads supporting the new compact, focusing on the potential increase in tax revenue to the state’s coffers and new jobs that would be created.

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