Sports Betting ‘Will Happen in Florida’ Despite Challenges

Sports Betting ‘Will Happen in Florida’ Despite Challenges
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Sports betting in Florida is legal. You just can’t do it. Yet.

The fight over sports betting in Florida, however, rages like twin Category 5 hurricanes pounding the Panhandle and South Beach simultaneously.

Months of doom, gloom and lots of misinformation pumped out by those opposed to sports gambling in general, or in the current form in which it was legalized in the Sunshine State, has left wanna-be bettors in Florida in wagering flux.

Tribe's Monopoly Needed To Start

Sports betting in Florida will be flawed as long as there is a monopoly, like the one granted to the Seminole Tribe. But there was never any real chance for sports betting to occur in Florida any other way, at least not initially.

The Seminole Tribe bills itself as “unconquered” – although fans of Florida State’s team know that doesn’t apply to the football field. The Seminoles were unbeaten by United States forces in three different wars. They never signed a peace treaty, even when the last 300 or so surviving members lived in the Everglades in the mid 19th century.

Multiple forces with big money at their back are openly engaged in hostilities either in support of or opposition of the 30-year gaming compact passed by a special section of the legislature in the spring, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Tribe, and eventually allowed to come into being by the Department of Interior's inaction.

The compact went into effect on Oct. 15 in regard to sports betting. But there has been no official word from the Seminole Tribe or the state as to when bettors can legally wager on college and pro sports within the geographic limits of Florida. The Tribe is set to pay the state $500 million annually for the next five years, or less if there’s no sports betting.

The compact allows the Tribe to license certain approved current pari-mutuel license holders to also take bets. Those sites can have their online betting apps managed by outside operators, as well. The Tribe would get 40% of all their net revenues.

Lawsuits: 1 down, 2 to go

One lawsuit challenging the Tribe and the state was dismissed by a federal judge last week in Tallahassee. West Flagler Associates, owners of Magic City Casino in Miami and Bonita Springs Poker Room, sought to stop the sports betting part of the compact in July because it allowed wagers to be processed online outside tribal lands, which is a violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. U.S. District Court Judge Allen Winsor ruled that it lacked standing to sue the state because it could demonstrate how the state’s approval of the compact caused them harm.

Online sports betting in Florida would be accomplished through a “hub and spoke” system where the servers processing the wagers would be located on the Indian land. That approach has been at the core of many attacks on the compact.

The remaining two federal lawsuits were filed in Washington. In one case, West Flagler Associates also sued U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, making the same claim that the “hub and spoke” approach is illegal. The other suit was filed by a group that includes “No Casinos,” which helped get Florida’s Amendment 3 passed in 2018. That bans the expansion of gambling in Florida without 60% voter approval.

Oral arguments for both cases are scheduled to be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich on Nov. 5, in the District Court for the District of Columbia. The cases are not consolidated, however.

Bob Jarvis is a tenured law professor at Nova Southeastern Law School. He teaches, among other courses, a class in gambling law. Jarvis has been adamant since the spring that the gaming compact would be enacted and survive all its legal challenges.

Jarvis told on Monday that he believes Friedrich, a Florida native appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2017, will dismiss both lawsuits filed in Washington.

“Nothing has really changed except that there now are two frivolous lawsuits rather than three frivolous lawsuits,” Jarvis said. “The lawsuits are but a minor annoyance to the Tribe – sports betting will happen in Florida (there’s too much money to prevent it), but will not happen until the Seminoles have worked out all the bugs and are sure that they will have a successful launch. Nothing would be more detrimental to the Tribe’s brand than if it had a glitch-filled launch.”

’Out Of State’ Interests

Meanwhile, DraftKings and FanDuel have poured $10 million apiece into the drive to get a sports betting referendum on the 2022 Florida ballot, fronted by a group called Florida Education Champions. But with roughly 50% its funding expended thus far, fewer than 7% of the signatures required to get the item on the ballot have been gathered.

The proposal backed by FanDuel and DraftKings would initially allow those 21 and over to participate in Florida online sports betting, but only from providers who have been legally licensed in at least 10 other states for at least one year, in addition to the Seminole Tribe.

The mission now is to land enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Petitions featuring the logos of both DK and FanDuel have landed in the mailboxes of registered Florida voters urging them to return a signed version of the pre-completed form.

As of its Sept. 30 filing with the Florida Division of Elections, Florida Education Champions had spent $9,889,641.11 of the $20,000,154 it had received in contributions.

To get an initiative certified for the 2022 Florida ballot, 891,589 valid signatures are required. Those signatures must come from at least 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts. As of Monday, 57,529 signatures have been submitted in support of the ballot item. The deadline for verification is Feb. 1, 2022.

If those numbers weren’t bleak enough, a flood of TV ads has aired during regional and national NFL and college football games in Florida, pleading that voters “don’t sign the gambling petitions.”

The ads hit “out of state gambling companies” who would turn Florida into “another Las Vegas.” The irony in those ads is that they are backed by $10 million in funding by the Seminole Tribe.

A Tribe that remains “unconquered” when it comes to wars – or sports betting.