Florida Legislation of Sports Betting Could Skip Public Voting

By  //  February 24, 2021

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Forget fantasy sports, if new legislation goes through, next year Floridians could be making real money by legally betting on their favorite real-life teams. 

A bill to legalize sports betting has been filed for the 2021 legislative session by Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes.

A bid to legalize sports betting in Florida

Brandes has proposed a bill that would get Florida in on the sports betting action. Filing SB 392, 394, and 396, all of which would collectively legalize statewide mobile sports betting. The bills, if passed, would permit betting on both collegiate and professional sports, taxing winnings at a rate of 15 percent.

His plan would put the Department of the Lottery in charge of regulating sports betting, and all revenue generated would go towards education in the state. Despite the noble goal of providing additional education funding, Senator Brandes faces an uphill battle.

Florida sports betting climate

Florida is a tricky place when it comes to gambling. The state gives out a lot of mixed signals in determining what is acceptable and what could be a felony, with charges of up to 5-year imprisonment.

If you’re at a Seminole-run casino, all card and slot games are completely legal. If you run a small poker game in your house with more than a $10 winning pot, you’re a felon.

There have also been numerous roadblocks to legalize gambling in the state outside of the Seminole Gaming Compact, which basically made gambling legal only within the Seminole casinos.

To that end, a referendum was issued in 2018 stating that outside gaming can be legalized with 60% public approval. Only then can gaming start to spread throughout the state, however, the Seminole tribe and religious organizations have been stalwart opponents to any referendum vote that has been brought up.

The loophole

Instead of fighting the Seminole gaming compact and lobbyist groups, casino operators looking to spread into Florida have pored over the wording of the 2018 law. To allow new operators of “Casino Games” a 60% popular vote needs to be passed. That is the part of the law that’s set in stone.

But, what constitutes a casino game? At the time in 2018, sports betting was not a typical practice within the Seminole casinos. The Seminole Gaming Compact gave them jurisdiction over card table games and slot machines. Sports betting was non-existent.

Operators are trying to claim that the Seminole Gaming Compact never gave them any jurisdiction over sports betting, for which many other states have separate laws. Many states in the last few years have opened up sports betting to the public with excellent results.

The public has been interested, and the tax revenue has been a considerable relief for Covid-strapped states. Some of the other online sportsbooks and additional information can be found here. If the case is argued effectively, it means that new sports betting and sportsbooks will be able to move into Florida, forgoing the 60% vote entirely.

No-casino campaign

It’s not as simple as pointing out a loophole and screaming, “GOTCHA!”, however. Opposition to the legalization of sports betting and outside operators are huge. The major opponent to such a move is no surprise: the Seminole Tribe. Losing control of statewide gambling would add another competitor to a cutthroat market that they already have firm control of.

The other major opposition is again not that far of a stretch. Disney has also been pushing to keep outside operators out of Florida. Disney’s interest in the entertainment sphere of Florida is, of course, invested in Disney World and its family-friendly theme parks. Allowing an increase in other “sinful” entertainments isn’t necessarily in Disney’s best interest either, and limiting the number of casinos and gambling outlets can only help to bolster their revenue streams.

The benefits may win out

The fact remains, however, that the American people are hurting for cash and many are sorely in need. This situation doesn’t bode well for spending and tax revenue. Housing and rent costs have been given government protections that prevent states from collecting revenue. The same can be said for standard sales tax, when people have less money to spend and are worried about basic necessities.

According to recent statistics, legal sports wagering in 19 states and the District of Columbia has generated $340 million in tax revenue since 2018. In the tough economic times fueled by the Covid-19 pandemic, this may be enough of an incentive to move forward with sports betting legislation.