2020 Vision: Conditions Still Look Swampy For Florida Sports Betting

Posted on January 30, 2020

Twenty states have some form of legal sports betting law. This series looks ahead to which states could have legislative action to regulate sports betting in 2020.

Next up: Florida.

Florida Rep. David Santiago walked to the microphone in an aisle at the National Council of Legislators for Gaming States conference earlier this month. He asked panelists the question on the mind of all legislators in the Sunshine State:

Does authorizing Florida sports betting count as an expansion of gambling?

This matter is of particular interest in Florida because Amendment 3, approved by voters in 2018, prohibits the legislature from authorizing new casino gambling. Any expansions of gambling not only need to be approved by but also initiated by voters.

Looking for hope for FL sports betting

Santiago hoped that panelists discussing tribal-state gaming compacts would provide him examples he could bring back to colleagues to show that allowing sports betting in Florida at an existing gaming facility isn’t an expansion.

Instead, the panelists agreed that adding Florida sports betting at an existing gaming facility is still an expansion just as it would be to increase the number of slot machines.

Afterward, Santiago and Sen. Oscar Braynon admitted that they didn’t see any hope for Florida to pass legislation authorizing sports betting this year because the majority of Florida legislators don’t believe they have the right.

What happened in Florida sports betting in 2019

Renegotiating the gaming compact with the Seminole was a big focus of the Florida Legislature last year.

Senate President Bill Galvano, who handled the previous compact, tasked the next person in line to run the chamber, Sen. Wilton Simpson, to do the negotiations.

Simpson worked out a tentative agreement with the Seminole. It would have paid the state at least $500 million a year in return for pledging to shut down the designated card games offered at state parimutuels, among other items.

However, Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to sign off on the deal.

In response, the Seminole told the governor they would stop making annual payments of about $350 million to the state “until the illegal banked card game issue is resolved.”

What may happen in Florida in 2020

With the Seminole not paying money to the state, some legislators got a little brash entering the year.

Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill to authorize the Florida Lottery to regulate sports betting. The lottery and along with the Seminole, are exempt from Amendment 3.

Galvano agreed that legislators need to look at what’s available on the private side of gambling rather than just the compact. However, the realities of Amendment 3 and the political climate make that unlikely.

The Seminole quickly worked to douse those hopes this week. So, while Brandes’ bill has no momentum, legislation that would forbid the Florida Lottery from offering games based on sporting events passed in the House Gaming Control Subcommittee by a nearly unanimous vote.

So, any efforts to legalize sports betting in Florida will once again need to go through the Seminole. The relations between the state and tribe seem too complicated for that to happen this year.

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News, where he covered the NFL, Kobe-Shaq three-peat, Pete Carroll’s USC football teams, USC basketball, pro tennis, Kings hockey and fulfilled his childhood dream of sitting in the Dodgers’ dugout. His reporting on efforts to legalize sports betting began in 2010, when Playboy Magazine flew him to Prague to hang out with Calvin Ayre and show how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting expansion of regulated sports betting across the country. A USC journalism alum, Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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