There is neither a bill nor any proposal, but there is some ray of hope for Florida sports betting to sneak into the state’s short legislative session.
A priority of the legislature is negotiating a new gaming compact with the Seminole tribe. Senate President Bill Galvano tells Legal Sports Report he thinks legal sports betting would be part of any agreement.
“It’s definitely part of the discussion because that opportunity exists and they are as interested in participating in sports betting as other entities here in the state of Florida,” Galvano said.
“We’re not at a point where we have a product agreed upon and know who gets that product, but we’re having those initial discussions and I think it’s something the tribe will want if we resolve this.”
How Florida got into its situation with Seminole
A US District Court judge ruled in favor of the Seminole in 2016, contending that the state breached tribal exclusivity for banked card games by allowing parimutuel facilities to use a “designated player” system as a workaround.
The approximately $350 million gaming payment the tribe makes annually to the state was tied to this exclusivity clause. The agreement reached by then-Gov. Rick Scott for the tribe to continue that payment in return for the state not appealing the decision expires in May.
Galvano was the key legislative negotiator of the 2010 compact with the Seminole. He tasked Sen. Wilton Simpson to meet with Seminole representatives to pursue a new compact.
“Right now, from the state’s standpoint and speaking on behalf of the Senate, what is paramount is to see where we are ultimately with the tribe going forward,” Galvano said.
“If we are able to restabilize that relationship, which provides substantial revenue to our state budget, then the opportunity is there for exploring sports betting in the state of Florida.”
How Florida sports betting could come up
A 60-day Florida legislative session began March 5 and concludes May 3. The deadline for individual lawmakers to introduce new legislation passed following the first day.
However, committees can still introduce bills. Galvano explained the process of how and when the Senate Committee on Industry, Innovation and Technology, chaired by Simpson, might introduce a sports betting bill.
“Either we would have or be on the cusp of an agreement with the Seminole tribe with their understanding of what direction we’re moving with the parimutuel community, not just for sports betting but perhaps tax reduction, hours of operation or complimentary service of beverages,” Galvano said.
Legislature’s power to authorize in question
Complicating matters even further is a constitutional amendment Florida voters passed last November taking away the legislature’s authority to authorize casino gambling expansions in the state.
Marc Dunbar, a government relations and gaming attorney who calls the Seminole a client, told LSR that the only way FL sports betting can be offered without a constitutional amendment is through the tribes or the lottery.
Galvano indicated that the legislature would still attempt to move forward with a sports betting bill if it makes sense within the compact negotiation. He added that he had lawyers review the situation who think a reasonable argument can be made that sports betting doesn’t count as Class III casino gambling under Amendment 3.
“If we get within the red zone on a deal, the governor would engage and we would occupy the role of ratifying the compact, expansion on sports betting and any other changes in the parimutuel sector to come from the legislature,” Galvano said.
“If it were to happen, it’s going to be pretty close to the end of the session before we can get everything lined up.”