Last updated: June 16, 2021
Once an elusive dream, Florida sports betting could become reality this year.
The Florida legislature approved a new gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state government in May 2021. That compact is under federal review and could face legal challenges, but it also could pave the way for legal sports betting in Florida.
While discussions in most states take place in public legislative hearings, sports betting negotiations in Florida happened nearly entirely behind the scenes. Any deal for sports betting in Florida required negotiating a larger gambling compact between the state and the tribe.
That is exactly what happened in April 2021, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new compact with the Seminole that would bring some form of statewide mobile wagering to the Sunshine State. State legislators approved the deal in May 2021 but the compact still must receive federal approval.
That approval is uncertain because of questions regarding the definition of mobile sports betting under tribal gaming law. Local groups also are threatening legal challenges to FL sports betting, claiming it violates a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval.
What’s happening in Florida sports betting right now
- June 24, 2021 — DraftKings and FanDuel file a ballot initiative to put statewide commercial mobile sports betting up to voters in 2o22. If the organizers can achieve a variety of administrative tasks, the petition requires 891,589 signatures to get on the ballot. Voters would need to approve sports betting with at least 60%.
- June 7, 2021 — Sports betting in Florida gains an opponent in Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. Gelber sends a letter to the Department of the Interior urging the agency to reject Gov. Ron DeSantis’ negotiated state compact with the Seminole Tribe. Gelber’s objection centers on his belief that the expansion detailed in the compact goes beyond the scope of the state Constitution and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
- May 25, 2021 — Gov. DeSantis signs off on the new tribal compact and removes the last state-level roadblock for sports betting in Florida. All that remains now is consideration by the US Department of the Interior, which manages all tribal affairs in the US. The agency has the option to approve, deny, or allow the change without comment (“deemed approved.”) If sports betting does move forward, most stakeholders and observers foresee court challenges ahead for the law.
- May 19, 2021 — The Florida House approves sports betting as part of the proposed gaming expansion to the state’s compact with the Seminole Tribe. The approval comes a day after the Florida Senate gave the compact its own stamp of approval. The passage puts Florida on course for a sports betting launch as soon as October 2021, but the bill still requires a governor’s signature and Department of the Interior approval before it is official.
- May 17, 2021 — Florida lawmakers come together for a special legislative session regarding an expansion of the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. At present, the new language in the compact places the tribe in almost complete control of sports betting in the state — a reflection of the tribe’s political power in Florida. The bill allows both the tribe and pari-mutuel facilities in the state to offer sports betting. However, the pari-mutuel venues would be sub-licensees of the tribe.
- April 23, 2021 — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a new gaming compact with Florida’s Seminole Tribe that makes sports betting a distinct possibility for the Sunshine State in the near future. The tribal compact must now gain approval from both chambers of the Florida Legislature and the US Department of the Interior before it becomes the law of the land. The Florida Legislature will likely have to meet for a special session through the month of May 2021, as the regular session is scheduled to conclude on April 30.
- April 16, 2021 — There has been a considerable push within the Florida Legislature to make sports betting a reality during the 2021 session, but hope is fading. With only two weeks remaining for legislative meetings, lawmakers are faced with the unenviable task of negotiating an agreement with the Seminole, crafting a new sports betting measure, and passing everything to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.
- Dec. 29, 2020 — Florida State Sen. Jeff Brandes files a bill to legalize sports betting in the Sunshine State during the upcoming 2021 legislative session. Unfortunately for Brandes, SB392 has little chance of gaining significant traction because of its omission of a central stakeholder in Florida gambling. Sports betting, like most gaming, simply will not move forward without the involvement of the Seminole Tribe. The tribe claims an exclusive right to offer sports betting to Floridians.
- March 13, 2020 — Another legislative session in Florida ends without a new sports betting law. Although lawmakers were finally able to get to the negotiating table with the Seminole Tribe, the meetings began just 10 days before the end of the session. As it stands, the state budget is going to be short by hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue due to the Seminoles’ withholding of their usual tax payments. The tribe’s refusal to pay stems from a failed 2019 proposal that would’ve ceased “designated player” games at pari-mutuel facilities in exchange for the tribe’s annual contribution increasing to $500 million.
Is sports betting legal in Florida?
Not yet, but it might be soon. State leaders and the Seminole Tribe agreed to a deal in early 2021 that could bring statewide mobile Florida sports betting to the Sunshine State in the coming months.
The tribal compact that would legalize FL sports betting remains under federal review at the moment.
Right now, though, there are no legal options for sports betting in Florida. It is possible this could change as soon as the latter part of 2021 if legal hurdles are cleared by that time.
The status of Florida sports betting
Sports betting in Florida certainly appears to be close to fruition. It remains illegal to wager on sports in Florida, though, for the time being, even after state legislators approved a new gaming deal between the state government and the tribe operating Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
After a deal was not reached in 2019, the Seminoles announced that they would not make their annual gaming payment of approximately $330 million to the state in 2020. A new compact to restart the payment was signed in 2021 that covers a comprehensive list of gaming priorities for both the state and the tribe.
FL sports betting has received legislative approval but remains in limbo for the time being. Once launched, Floridians could see multiple options for wagering on sports via mobile devices throughout the state.
When will online sports betting launch in Florida?
There’s reason to believe that 2021 could be the year to begin the countdown to launch of sports betting in the Sunshine State. The earliest sports wagers could be taken in Florida is probably 2022.
That would include the ability to wager online via mobile sports betting apps in Florida. The potential launch date is complicated, however, by two primary factors.
First, state voters approved an amendment to the Florida constitution in 2018 that gave them the power to decide whether any future gaming expansion could happen. Interest groups in the state are vowing to challenge the new gaming compact and potential launch of Florida sportsbooks on the grounds the deal also must receive approval on the ballot.
Second, legal experts do not agree about whether it is legal for tribes to facilitate mobile sports betting off reservation lands. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) could limit wagering to within the borders of a tribe’s physical lands but this question remains open and undecided right now.
The next steps are a review of the compact by federal officials who oversee tribal gaming. Their approval is not guaranteed, though, and those lawsuits also could slow down the potential start of legal mobile sports betting in Florida.
Online sportsbooks in Florida
If Florida sportsbooks are allowed to launch, bettors can expect one prominent name to dominate the landscape at the beginning: Hard Rock Sportsbook.
The Seminole Tribe operates the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, where it is by far the most recognized brand. Because the Seminole enjoy exclusivity in offering sports betting in Florida, the Hard Rock Sportsbook brand likely will be foremost among options presented.
The deal approved between the state government and the tribe does allow for other Florida sportsbook brands to participate. The trick, however, is that these brands must reach a deal with the Seminole to be allowed access to the Florida sports betting market.
For example, if DraftKings Sportsbook or BetMGM Sportsbook wants to offer mobile sports betting in FL, that company must agree to a deal that will pay the Seminole a percentage of revenue in exchange for the ability to operate in Florida.
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Florida sports betting bills
An enabling bill ratified the tribal compact with the state:
Three bills sought to legalize sports betting in Florida prior to the deal reached between the Seminole Tribe and the state. The bills essentially were abandoned once it became clear sports wagering would be included in the tribal compact:
The legislative effort to move FL sports betting forward received relatively little consideration. Two bills died in committee early in the session:
Florida sports betting law
The law governing Florida sports betting technically exists via the tribal compact reached in 2021.
The compact calls for the Seminole Indians to share 13.75% of sports betting revenue with the state, as long as the Seminole sign sports betting contracts with at least three parimutuel operators within three months.
Those agreements would allow parimutuels to launch skins of their own but require bets on the Seminole server. Without those arrangements, that revenue share would increase by 2% until such deals are in place. The parimutuels would get to keep 40% of sports betting revenue.
SB 2-A made into law the new gaming compact. The Seminole Indians own exclusivity to run FL sports betting.
Legal sports betting options in Florida
Aside from betting on horse racing, there are no legal sportsbook websites that accept bets from anyone within the state of Florida.
There are illegal offshore websites that offer sports betting in Florida. They do not hold a license from any US jurisdiction to legally accept bets from residents.
Without regulation from the state, these offshore betting apps can’t be counted on to pay out winnings and have been known to disappear with people’s money.
The only safe and protected way to bet on sports in the United States is to do so with a licensed operator.
Many Florida pari-mutuel locations offer betting on Jai alai, a sport similar to racquetball in which players use curved baskets strapped to their hands to launch hard rubber balls at fast speeds on a three-walled court.
Most popular sports to bet on in FL
There’s little doubt that legal Florida sports betting would be a hit.
With more than 21 million people, Florida is the third-most populous state in the country following California and Texas. It’s also the second most popular state as a tourist destination behind California.
NFL betting in Florida
Florida has three NFL teams (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars.) NFL betting generates the most interest of any sport in the US market year in and year out.
The Buccaneers’ landing of six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady likely will generate betting excitement.
NBA betting in Florida
Two NBA teams (Miami Heat, Orlando Magic) call Florida home, accounting for most of the interest in the Sunshine State. The NBA continues to be a popular wager for in-game or in-play betting because of the pace of the action.
MLB betting in Florida
There are two Major League Baseball teams (Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays) that operate in Florida. Both consistently struggle to draw fans to the ballpark, but the state’s function as a Spring Training home for the Grapefruit League shows baseball’s popularity in Florida.
NHL betting in Florida
Two NHL teams (Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning) compete in the state of Florida. The Lightning are former Stanley Cup champions and remain one of the strongest teams in the league.
NCAA betting in Florida
Florida also has three college football powerhouses in the Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes. It would be wise for the state to permit wagers on in-state college teams to capture the betting interest in those teams for the regulated environment.
Where can I bet on sports in Florida?
The tribal compact with the Seminoles does mention retail sportsbooks in the state, but the actual layout and plan of these sportsbooks is still being worked out. The tribe owns and operates six casinos in the state. If and when sports betting in Florida launches, some of the larger Seminole casinos in the state will likely have a sportsbook on-site. Those casinos include:
- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Hollywood
- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Tampa
- Seminole Casino, Coconut Creek
- Seminole Classic Casino, Hollywood
- Seminole Casino Hotel, Immokalee
- Seminole Casino Brighton, Okeechobee
In addition, sportsbooks are likely to open in the state’s pari-mutuel racing facilities such as Gulfstream Park Racetrack and Tampa Bay Downs Racecourse. These facilities would have to partner with the Seminole Tribe in order to open a sportsbook in the state, according to the new 30-year compact.
Florida and Daily Fantasy Sports
While daily fantasy sports are unregulated in Florida, DraftKings and FanDuel operate in the state. Alongside the sports betting deal reached in 2021, legislators attempted to codify DFS but ran out of time in the session.
A representative of DraftKings and FanDuel spoke against the proposed deal because it would have required them to stop operating until they could acquire a license, among other issues.
Previous efforts to legalize daily fantasy sports in Florida have met staunch opposition from the Seminole Tribe.
A 1991 opinion from then-Attorney General Robert Butterworth makes offering DFS in Florida a dicey situation. Before DFS was even a dream, Butterworth opined that the operation of a fantasy sports league in Florida would violate state law.
For this reason, Yahoo! daily fantasy prohibits people in Florida from playing on its site.
Is horse racing legal in Florida?
In Florida, pari-mutuel wagering is authorized for horse racing, harness horse racing, quarter-horse racing, greyhound racing, jai alai games, and cardroom poker games. Additionally, slot machine gaming at pari-mutuel facilities is authorized in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The most popular thoroughbred racetracks in the state are Gulfstream Park, Gulfstream Park West and Tampa Bay Downs. Gulfstream Park hosts three important prep races for the Triple Crown races in the Holy Bull Stakes, Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby.
The historic Hialeah Park, which opened in 1922, offers quarter-horse racing. Betting on horse racing in Florida is regulated by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
Florida used to be the dog racing capital of the country with 11 greyhound racetracks. However, in 2018 voters decided to cease dog racing in the state at the beginning of 2021.
Florida sports betting timeline
Florida sports betting is near, as the state and the Seminole Tribe agreed to a new compact that includes statewide mobile wagering. The state legislature signed off on the deal between the tribe and governor during a special session in May 2021. The federal government is reviewing the compact, as required by law.
The deal concludes years of negotiations between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole. Reporting throughout the early part of 2021 indicated that the two sides were making significant progress, although similar reports in the past proved untrue in the long run.
This year, however, the rapid rise of legal sports betting elsewhere in the United States finally appears to have swayed both the state and the tribe to step into the modern world of wagering.
With the tribal gaming payment stopped, legislators entered 2020 making big statements about cutting the Seminoles out of gambling in the state to focus on pari-mutuels and opportunities with private gaming companies.
Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill to authorize the Florida Lottery to regulate sports betting without the tribe.
In response, the Seminoles flexed their muscle in the legislature. While Brandes’ bill went nowhere, legislation to forbid the Florida Lottery from offering games based on sporting events passed in the House Gaming Control Subcommittee by a nearly unanimous vote but did not get called for a House vote.
Despite the usual chatter about behind-the-scene negotiations on a comprehensive gambling deal that would include Florida sports betting, there was no attempt at an agreement as the session came to an end on March 13.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the latest FL sports betting proposal allows the tribe to serve as the host for mobile sports betting statewide. The tribe would then resume and substantially increase its revenue-sharing payments to the state.
However, the proposal would have allow pari-mutuels to continue offering designated-player card games.
Seminole attorney Marc Dunbar explained to LSR why it doesn’t make financial sense for Florida sports betting to get the Seminoles to give up their dispute of designated player games.
With the agreement between the Seminole and former Gov. Rick Scott to extend the tribal gaming payment to the state coming to an end, renegotiating the gaming compact with the was a focus of the Florida legislature.
Senate President Bill Galvano, who handled the previous compact, tasked Simpson to work with the Seminoles
Simpson worked out a tentative agreement with the tribe. 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.
Tribal casinos and pari-mutuels would have been permitted to offer sports betting, with the pari-mutuels paying a cut of the revenues to the Seminoles.
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.”
The Seminole took control of any changes to gambling in the state away from the legislature by supporting the passage of Amendment 3 in the November election.
Amendment 3 prohibits the legislature from authorizing new casino gambling. Any expansions of gambling not only need to be approved by but also initiated by voters.
This made it impossible for future legislatures to legalize Florida sports betting without working with the Seminole.
Florida sports betting FAQ
Who would oversee sports betting in FL?
The Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering handles other gambling regulation in the state, including authority to carry out the state’s oversight responsibilities in accordance with the provisions outlined in the compact with the Seminole.
Will mobile FL sports betting be allowed?
Yes. Mobile sports wagering is likely to be allowed in Florida. The compact agreed upon by all parties includes the ability to bet on sports in Florida by mobile phone.
Whether that is legal under tribal law remains undetermined, though, and might need to be addressed by a court before launch.
Who can bet on sports in Florida?
Anyone over the age of 21 is eligible to bet on sports in Florida.
Excluded customers likely will include key personnel from pro and college sports teams, including coaches, players, trainers, and officials. Referees also would be banned.
Who is the Seminole Tribe?
The Seminole Tribe is a Native American tribe indigenous to the state of Florida. The tribe owns the exclusive right to offer all forms of casino-style gaming in the state, including sports betting in Florida.
The tribe owns and operates the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood. It is the largest casino complex in the region.
There are some sports betting websites that say they accept bets from the United States. Are those legal options?
No. There are currently no sportsbook operators that are licensed at the federal level, which means all US sportsbooks are licensed at the state level. Any website that suggests betting from anywhere in the US is allowed is a website that operators offshore. It is not legal for those sites to accept bets from US citizens and those sites offer no protection to those who bet on them.