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Will the Sports Betting Bill in Florida Be Resurrected?

| Suncoast Post Staff |

Sports betting is not technically legal in Florida at the moment, even though state lawmakers passed legislation in 2021 to make it so. Lobbyists and liberal lawmakers have been looking for all available legal means to usher in a regulated sports betting market in the Sunshine State, but the proposed market remains in legal limbo.

Laws at the moment do not permit sports betting Florida, be it in retail or online sportsbooks in the state. However, the Seminole Tribe of Florida had negotiated a tribal-state gaming compact in 2021, leading to lawmakers passing legislation to confirm the agreement.

The new compact would allow the tribe to offer sports betting at its Florida tribal casinos and online but that did not come to fruition because the legislation was overruled by the Federal Court in West Flagler Associates vs. Haaland.

The Short-Lived Florida Online Casino

After Governor Ron DeSantis had signed Seminole’s tribal-state gaming compact in 2021, the tribe proceeded to launch the Hard Rock Sportsbook online site. Many thought that this would be the first of many online sports betting sites in Florida.

Shortly after the virtual bookie site was launched, a lawsuit was filed against the new compact, and the tribe was forced to shut down Florida’s first online sports betting site not long after its debut.

Seminole has appealed the ruling by Judge Dabney Fredrich of the Federal Court. According to the judge, the compact violated the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act. The judgment read as follows:

“Although the Compact ‘deem[s]’ all sports betting to occur at the location of the Tribe’s ‘sportsbook(s)’ and supporting servers, this Court cannot accept that fiction.

When a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by ‘deeming’ their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not,” Judge Dabney Fredrich.

If the ruling gets overturned, Florida will have a legal and regulated sports betting market. If not, the Sunshine State will have to start all over again and find a better way to bring legal sports betting to Florida.

The Gaming Compact That Would Usher Sports Betting in Florida

When Governor DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe successfully negotiated a new gaming compact, it seemed like Florida would soon join states with legal sports betting. The compact allowed retail tribal casinos to operate retail sportsbooks and their online equivalents.

It would also establish a way for the tribal operators to partner with pari-mutuel facilities and for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to have exclusivity to run online sports betting. Florida lawmakers were in support and even passed legislation in May 2021 to confirm the gaming compact.

However, the Department of Interior declined to approve or deny the new tribe-state compact in August last year. This typically meant that approval was default. Two months later, Seminoles launched Hard Rock Sportsbook online on November 1, with intentions to open more bookies moving forward.

The new Florida sports betting market would only last a few weeks before a lawsuit was brought against the compact by a pair of pari-mutuel facilities operating in Florida.

The plaintiffs claimed that the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in part because it allowed Seminole to offer sports betting throughout Florida via online betting sites (an activity restricted to only take place on tribal land).

The Federal court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and Seminole has since appealed the ruling. However, the timetable on how the appeal will be heard is yet to be released.

Meanwhile, FanDuel and DraftKings had hoped to get a sports betting initiative on the November 2022 ballot but their efforts failed. From the unfortunate turn of events, it remains doubtful that the Sunshine State will have a sports betting market until 2023 or even later.

The Florida Sports Betting Initiative (2022)

The initiative was designed to permit sports betting at pari-mutuel facilities, sports venues, and online in Florida. Had the initiative collected enough signatures, the Florida State Legislature would have been compelled to pass legislation to implement the proposed constitutional amendment to allow licensing, regulation, taxation, and consumer protection.

Under the initiative, all tax revenue generated by the online sports betting sector would be dedicated to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund of the Department of Education.

 The amendment initiative also suggested that online sports betting operations be conducted by Native American tribes and companies that have existed for at least a year and conducted sports betting in at least 20 other states.

The qualifying entities were to begin conducting sports betting in Florida no later than eight months after the amendment was passed – that is if it got to the ballot and got approved by Florida voters. Entities that fell outside the brackets were to join the market not sooner than 20 months after the approval of the amendment.

Why Did the Initiative Fail?

Unfortunately, this initiative, which was initiated by the Florida Education Champions and backed by DraftKings and FanDuel, failed to meet the deadline and threshold of voters’ signatures.

The Florida Division of Election reported that the campaign had only managed to submit 514,874 valid signatures as of February 1, 2022. The Florida Education Champions made a public announcement stating that the campaign did not qualify.

“We ran into serious challenges when pursuing our mission to add sports betting to the next ballot. The Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, decimated our campaign and ability to collect more in-person signatures.

 In the months to come, we will consider all available options to ensure that Floridians have an opportunity to usher in a safe and legal sports betting market in the state. This will also mean hundreds of millions of dollars annually to support public education.”

The initiative has also faced fierce opposition from interested parties such as No Casinos, Standing Up for Florida Inc., and Seminole Tribe of Florida. No Casinos commented as follows:

“Florida voters approved the Voters Control of Gambling Amendment in 2018 with a huge majority. However, in disrespect, gambling lobbyists are now trying to convince Florida legislators to break the law in a bid to pass the largest gambling expansion in the state – while ignoring our right to vote in the process. The proposed initiative violates the Federal Law, the Florida Constitution, and the will of 71% of voters in the state.”

Photo from Deposit Photos

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