Florida Sports Betting Bill an Outside Bet

The newest attempt to bring in legal sports betting in the US state of Florida has begun with the introduction of a new bill, but it seems to be an outside bet. 

The bill in question is SB 392 and was introduced by state senator Jeff Brandes. It proposes the authorization of sports betting in the state, with the Florida Lottery taking on the role of regulator. Brandes is also the politician behind two other recent sports betting bills. SB 394 proposes that the sports betting revenue tax be set at 15%, while SB 396 outlines the fee for owning a license to offer betting on sport in the state, proposing a figure of $100,000. 

On the face of it, this sounds like a solid basis for sports betting. Certainly, there are many sports betting operators that would relish the chance to offer sports betting to the Florida market, not to mention a wide base of support among betting fans in the state. 

Unfortunately, the recent history of sports betting legislation in the state does not offer much encouragement. In fact, Brandes put forward a bill last year that was almost identical, only to see the bill fail at the committee stage.  

Tricky Tribal Issues

The reason for these failures was not the quality of Brandes’ bill but the political situation in the state, particularly with regard to the Seminole Tribe.

The tribe owns the Hard Rock casino group and maintain that they have the exclusive right to provide sports betting in Florida. That is a matter of ongoing political debate, although the Seminoles can claim that the Federal Register is on their side. It includes sports betting in the Class III gaming definition, giving them strong legal ground to stand on. 

At the same time, disagreements over wide gaming issues in Florida have also led the tribe to stop honoring their ongoing revenue-share arrangements. Both sides in the debate appeared to be moving closer to an agreement towards the end of last year, but nothing ultimately resulted. 

All of this will make it incredibly difficult to strike an agreement on sports betting, a fact that was recently acknowledged by the Florida Senate President, Wilton Simpson, who was quoted in the US media as saying that although it was vital to try to maximize state revenue, discussions are still ongoing and that the Senate is not at the point where they can introduce legislation. 

Referendum Block

Complicating the matter further is the fact that there is effectively a block on any changes to the structure of betting in the state, in the form of a referendum. In 2018, Florida voters gave the green light to a constitutional amendment that puts the Seminole tribe in charge of any gaming expansion. 

That means any such changes will have to be put to voters in a referendum, which introduces further risk and potential delay to the process. Given how hard the tribe has fought to oppose gambling expansion in the state, the only path to sports betting seems to be through them. 

And there are signs that the Seminoles are preparing for that change. Hard Rock has recently announced a new division for digital sports betting, headed up by a trio of experienced executives from what used to be the Stars Group, including former Stars CEO Rafi Ashkenazi and the former Stars senior VP in charge of strategy and operations, Matt Primeaux. 

While that may suggest a longer-term path for sports betting in Florida, in the short term, it doesn’t bode well for Senator Brandes and SB 392. 

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