Legal Challenges Await Florida Sports Betting Compact After Legislative Approval

Posted on May 19, 2021
Florida sports betting
Posted By on May 19, 2021

Normally, a governor’s signature is the final step in legalizing sports betting. That is not the case for Florida sports betting, though.

Gov. Ron DeSantis soon will have the bill authorizing a new compact with the Seminole Indians on his desk following House approval Wednesday. That followed Senate approval from Tuesday during a special session of the state legislature.

DeSantis is expected to sign the bill, considering he helped negotiate the compact with the Seminole. But the journey for legal FL sports betting only gets started with his signature.

Florida sports betting requires federal approval

Because sports betting in Florida is being legalized through a tribal compact, there still needs to be federal approval.

Once the compact is sent to the Department of Interior, a 45-day window starts. That puts approval for this sometime in July if the full window is used.

That approval is not guaranteed, though. The sports betting portion of the compact could be scrutinized because of prior rulings that contradict what the compact asserts about where a bet is placed.

Legal problems could await

Even if the compact survives and gets federal approval, FL sports betting is expected to face some legal challenges. One opposition group tweeted its response promising a fight soon after the House passage.

Rep. Michael Grieco called it “intellectually dishonest” to say the sports betting approval in the Florida compact does not count as expanded gambling. That would be defined by Amendment 3 to the state constitution passed by voters in 2018.

“We’re going to be in court, we’re going to lose, and we’re going to see this on the ballot,” Grieco added.

House Speaker, others expect litigation

Multiple members of the House expect the sports betting portion of the compact to be heard in court. House Speaker Chris Sprowls agreed with those views while talking to reporters after the House session:

“I think that is an open question. I think that reasonable people disagree. Some people have looked at it and said hey I don’t think it’s going to make it. I’ve looked at it, I think it will.

“The reality is that’s going to be resolved by a court. We expect that this is probably going to be litigated.”

Rep. Sam Garrison, a co-sponsor of the House bill to approve the compact, did not mince words when asked about a legal challenge on the House floor:

“I think we all expect it likely will be litigated, as it is an open legal question.”

The legal questions on Florida sports betting

There are two specific legal issues that surround betting as described in the compact.

The first is whether mobile betting anywhere in Florida actually counts as taking place on tribal land if the server is located there. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act casts a long shadow there.

If that part fails, Sprowls expects retail betting at Seminole casinos to still stand.

The other issue is with a constitutional amendment from 2018 that gave voters the right to approve gaming expansion. If this is found to constitute an expansion of gambling, it might need to go before voters on the November 2022 ballot.

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Matthew Waters

Matthew Waters is a reporter covering legal sports betting and the gambling industry. Previous stops include Fantini Research and various freelance jobs covering professional and amateur sports in Delaware and the Philadelphia area.

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