Florida Legalizes Sports Betting With Gaming Compact Approval

Florida Legalizes Sports Betting With Gaming Compact Approval
© USA Today

Florida became the largest state in the nation to legalize sports betting Wednesday after the approval of a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe by the full House.

The vote was 97-17 in the House Wednesday. The Florida House and Senate have been in special session this week in Tallahassee to approve the 30-year gaming compact and series of related bills concerning gambling in the Sunshine State. The full Senate approved the compact, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Tribe on April 23, by a 38-1 vote on Tuesday.

The full House continued in session following Wednesday's vote to discuss other gaming-related legislation. The full Senate on Tuesday also approved bills establishing and funding the Florida Gaming Control Commission and one that allows current pari-mutuel licenses holders to eliminate live and/or simulcast racing in order to retain their betting permits.

Florida has 21.48 million people and takes over as the most-populous state in the country to allow wagering since the 2018 Supreme Court PASPA decision that legalized the practice. New York, which has has a population of about 19.45 million, has retail sports betting and is working on regulations for online wagering. California and Texas have more people, but are not close on legalizing sports betting.

"We are getting $1.5 million a day for what the Seminole Tribe already does," said Rep. Randy Fine, who once worked as an executive in the gambling industry. Fine called sports betting "the elephant in the room," in reference to expected opposition over potential gambling expansion. "If the sports betting goes away, the compact still goes forward. The Seminoles just don't have to pay for it."

The compact had detractors in the House.

"If you are voting for this bill and think that you are not supporting the expansion of gambling in Florida, you are not being intellectually honest," said Rep. Michael Grieco of Miami.

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

Before this week’s special session, separate legislation that would have allowed casino owners to transfer their licenses within the state without local approval and another a portion of the gaming compact that would have allowed online casino gaming were both taken off the table. Both faced significant opposition and threatened to derail the focus of the special session, which is the approval of the compact.

What’s Next For Sports Betting In Florida?

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 be approved by the independent federal National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), which enacts the regulatory structure for Indian gaming in the United States, before it can go into effect. The deal is automatically enacted if not rejected by the NIGC within 45 days.

Opponents of expanded gambling in Florida gathered outside the state house on Tuesday. 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.

The compact calls for the operation of sports betting within Florida through servers based on Indian lands. That provision, supporters say, eliminates the need for any public approval via Amendment 3 because it is on Indian land. According to the compact, the Tribe is to act in “good faith” and award at least three sports betting licenses to the 19 current pari-mutuel holders deemed eligible.

"It is an open question. There's not a black-and-white answer to specifically tell us that the hub-and-spoke model is going to be permitted or not. The parties in the compact — the governor and the Tribe — could come to the good-faith conclusion it is. But it doesn't take a master's degree (to think) that this is likely going to be litigated," Rep. Sam Garrison said Wednesday.

If those licenses are not approved, the Tribe will pay a 2% penalty. Opponents of the compact within the pari-mutuel industry say that money can easily be made up by the Tribe and, thus, the Tribe will not actively seek outside partners.

In any case, whether sports betting operates solely within the Tribe’s domain or the other license are approved, online sports betting will be permitted for those over 21 who are physically located within the state via geo-tagging.

There would betting on college, professional team sporting events and motorsports. But no prop betting on college events would be permitted.

Fantasy Sports, Harness Racing Score Victories

The proposed 75-page gaming compact between the state and Seminole Tribe would run through 2051.

A “decoupling” bill (CS/CS/HB 7A) passed by the Senate would eliminate the requirement that current pari-mutuel holders run a minimum series of live or simulcast events to keep operating card rooms. The bill also expands the dates the rooms can operate. A similar version of the bill was amended by a House committee Tuesday. The change requires the state’s lone harness (or standardbred) horse track — Caesar’s Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park — to continue seasonal racing to keep its game room open.

And a bill that would have regulated fantasy sports in Florida died in the special session Tuesday after a lobbying effort conducted on behalf of DraftKings and FanDuel. The bill would have made the minimum age 21 — up from 18 — to play fantasy sports for money and forced providers to pay a $1 million licensing fee and an annual $250,000 renewal fee.

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