Slim Hopes for Florida Sports Betting

The New Year has so far seen a number of US states continue their push towards sports betting legalization, but in the state of Florida, hopes remain slim. 

At the end of December, state Senator Jeff Brandes, who represents the Pinellas area of Florida, announced plans for three bills that would legalize sports betting in the state. The bills, which suggest a licensing fee of $100,000 and a 15% tax rate, were almost identical to bills he proposed last year. 

The next legislative session in Florida opened on March 2 and runs to March 30. If the bills are not progressed in that period, the session can be extended. There is also a possibility of a special session, though that would require the cooperation of the Governor or the President of the Senate. 

No New Proposals

Brandes’ SB 392 would allow Florida residents over the age of 21 to bet on sports events, though not high school or youth competitions. It would also give the Florida Lottery the role of regulating the sector. The bill contains no official league data mandate or integrity fee. 

The tax rate for the new sector would be set by SB 394 at 15%, with proceeds going to cover administrative expenses and to the Florida Educational Enhancement Trust Fund. Finally, SB 396 lays out the licensing fees. Initial applications for sports betting operators would cost $100,000, and these licenses would have to be renewed on an annual basis. 

The bills lay out a form of sports betting that clearly aims to depend on consumer volume as the main driver of revenue, rather than leaning on high-prices for license fees, as in states like Illinois. 

Tough Road to Legalisation

Although the bills appear to fulfill many of the requirements of sports betting operators and customers, Brandes faces a tough road to get them into law. 

That’s because the bills completely overlook the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Seminole Tribe is both a gambling mainstay of the state and a politically strong force. Under the terms of the state’s contract with the tribe, any new gambling activity would be included in the existing compact that sets out the authority and rights of the tribe. This would appear to grant the tribe exclusivity for Class III gambling activities, and according to the Federal Register, this includes sports betting. 

So any attempt to bring in sports betting without involving the Seminole Tribe is sure to lead to extensive litigation and delay. There’s also the potential issue of the need for a public ballot to ratify sports betting in Florida, which could represent another sticking point. 

Odd Omission 

The new bills can also be criticized on another front, as they don’t include any reference to the legalization of daily fantasy sports contests. Many DFS operators continue to offer their services in Florida, but they are under the shadow of a 1991 legal opinion questioning their legality. 

Legalizing DFS would seem to face the same problems as sports betting legalization, but it seems an odd omission and could lead to suggestions that the bills should be rejected as they don’t tackle the linked issue of DFS legality. 

That said, while any discussion of sports betting in the state will be viewed favorably by sports fans and operators, progress is unlikely without the support of the Seminole Tribe, which is sure to mean significant involvement in the running of any sports betting sector in the state. Without progress on that front, legal sports betting remains an unlikely goal in the Sunshine State this year. 

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