A New Push to Legalize Sports Betting in Florida

By  //  January 20, 2020

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Imagine this – You sit down with a pint of beer by your side, watching a rather boring ballgame on a Friday night, and you decide to spice things up a bit by plugging a bet that the quarterback will manage to squeeze in another interception before the quarter is over, legally, with a single click.

Imagine this – You sit down with a pint of beer by your side, watching a rather boring ballgame on a Friday night, and you decide to spice things up a bit by plugging a bet that the quarterback will manage to squeeze in another interception before the quarter is over, legally, with a single click. 

Should push for legalizing sports betting be successful, you might just be able to do that this very year. 

The underground sports betting scene is thriving in Florida, causing the state to miss out on a sizable amount of potential tax revenue.

According to State Senator Jeffrey Brandes, the estimated illegal sports betting amounts to about $150 billion across the nation, citing studies done by economists.

Many American punters resort to using websites outside of the US, with a significant portion of those coming from Scandinavian nations, some of which provide a betting bonus for Norwegian players as well as to other nations within the region.

He proposes a bill that would enable sports betting on games at college and professional level and international sports events. Sports at the high school level and below are not considered, however. In order to make a bet, the person will have to be 21 or older.

The bill will authorize state lottery to start offering sports betting through self-service booths, as well as to start issuing licenses to private businesses to take bets via web and mobile services.

The proceeds from licensing will be split halfway with the state’s share being used for scholarships and educational programs.

The Unconquered Tribe

Whilst optimistic, there is one key factor that the bill does not take into account, however, and it may be the cause of its downfall – the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The tribe operates seven casinos across the state, with annual net revenue of $2.5 billion and exclusive rights to host most lucrative card games, including blackjack, at their casinos.

The deal was signed in 2010, with the Seminole Tribe agreeing to share a percentage of their gambling revenue with the state. Yet, the Tribe had pulled out of the agreement earlier last year, arguing that the state has failed to uphold their end of the deal regarding the exclusivity. 

They argue that smaller, private casino establishments are using loopholes in the state law to operate banked card games, and cite the failure of the state to take action against these establishments as the reason for withholding $350 Million that was due to the State under the agreement.

Alarmed by the risk of losing substantial revenue share, the state has started negotiations on a new deal, and the Seminole Tribe has expressed their interest in sports betting.

Dream or a Nightmare?

Whilst some see opportunity in sports betting being introduced to Florida, for others, it is the equivalent of their worst nightmare.

The president of No Casinos Florida, an anti-gambling group – John Sowinski, questions the very legitimacy of the Legislature to legalize sports betting, citing Amendment 3, that provided voters with the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in Florida.

According to Sowinski, sports betting can only be authorized by voters through the ballot box. Amendment 3, combined with the Florida House of Representatives being typically opposed to similar bills, puts the bill on sports betting at risk.

Aside from legal concerns, however, there are cultural ones as well.

Sowinski fears that the honest, innocent character of American sports in Florida may forever be altered should sports betting be introduced on a large scale, transforming long-running traditional games into pseudo-casinos, by introducing addictive elements inherent to gambling, where attendees are frantically betting on everything that goes down the pitch, analyzing everything in minute detail, instead of enjoying honest sports.

Not if, But when

Despite optimistic estimates of some and pessimistic views of others, the question that we should be asking is when sports betting will be introduced to Florida, not if it will be.

Professor of Law at Southeastern University – Bob Jarvis, argues that considering the substantial amount of potential revenue that will be generated for all parties involved, indicates that it is an inevitability, but not something that may happen soon.

What stands in the way of the bill passing at this stage is a gargantuan task of drafting a comprehensive framework for the introduction of sports betting and dealing with a mountain of legal lawsuits that will follow suit.

Either way, it seems like a matter of time before the imagined scenario, of betting on the quarterback squeezing in another interception before the quarter is over, becomes a reality.

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