Sports Betting in Florida Still Unlikely Despite Legislative Loophole

By  //  May 21, 2020

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A debate over the wording of a constitutional amendment has sparked cautious optimism that sports betting could still be legalized in 2020.

A debate over the wording of a constitutional amendment has sparked cautious optimism that sports betting could still be legalized in 2020.

Only a few months after the senate struck down a federal ban (PASPA) on sports betting in 2018 Florida introduced Amendment 3 into the Florida Constitution, which granted ‘voter control of gambling in Florida’. The idea was simple; that voters would decide whether they should legalize the expansion of gambling in the Sunshine State.

This form of referendum was not unheard of; a similar one took place in Colorado in November 2019, with voters approving the legalization of sports betting in the Centennial State. The first Colorado Sportsbooks launched on May 1st 2020.

Recently, the argument has been made that the state could possibly circumvent this legal requirement for a referendum, as the wording of the amendment refers only to ‘casino gambling’ and not ‘sports betting’.  This led to a debate over the semantics of Article X, and whether the phrase sports betting was entirely synonymous with casinos.

The Seminole tribe currently operate the majority of gambling business in Florida, netting over $2 billion in revenue from gambling annually; Non-tribal gaming only takes in a quarter of this amount.

This amount still falls far short of states which have legalized sports betting. New Jersey sportsbooks, for example, brought in $4.58 billion in 2019, despite a population less than half the size of Florida’s.

The original compact signed with the Seminole Tribe, required a $350 million annual payment to the state. An agreement that was ended by the Seminole Tribe earlier this year after the state had refused to crack down on the games at horse, dog and Jai-alai venues.

The $350 hole in the state coffers, along with a lack of revenue at tribal casinos has led to a renewed interest in coming to an agreement.

One such solution is to legalize online sports betting; this would net extra revenue for the Seminole Tribe while their retail casinos are closed and in turn bring in extra tax revenue for Florida.

As it stands the state would need to wait until November 2020, before putting the question to a public vote as per the original Amendment 3.

Until then the only path to legalizing sports betting in the state would be to do so without the voters’ consent, a controversial move that would face a number of legal and political obstacles.

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