Florida nears legal sports betting, as opponents continue offensive

Florida is nearing the start of legal sports betting.

A historic gaming compact, negotiated by Governor Ron DeSantis and approved by the State Legislature, gave the Seminole Tribe the exclusive rights to sports wagering across the state. The tribe is allowed to start taking bets as early as October 15, but a spokesperson says the Seminoles have not yet announced when they will begin accepting wagers.

The Seminole Tribe must either accept the bet on tribal lands, or process the wager on servers placed on tribal lands, according the compact and federal gaming regulations. All sports bets in the Sunshine State, including those made at pari mutuels and online, must be run through the tribe.

Critics argue that gives the Seminole Tribe a monopoly over sports betting in the state, and end-runs around a provision in the Florida Constitution that requires the voters approve any expansion of gambling.

Proponents of the deal point to the revenue the state will receive from the compact, which includes $500 million a year for at least 5 years and a percentage of revenue thereafter.

“I think this is a great thing for the State of Florida,” said Rep. John Snyder (R-Stuart), who sat on one of the committees that approved the compact in a special session of the legislature earlier this year. “For people who don’t want to see gambling expanded this was a great opportunity to hold the line and say gambling and casino activities will stay in the current footprint.”

Snyder argues the compact creates a way for the state to increase its revenue, without causing a rush of new gambling across the state.

But, some Democratic lawmakers say the state could have received more from the Seminole Tribe, and argue Florida is now missing out on money that could have come from other sports betting companies.

“I think it was a good deal for Florida. Do I think it was the best deal we could have gotten? Probably not,” said Rep Dan Daley (D-Broward County). “When you compare [the compact] to some other states that have gone down the sports betting avenue, they’ve seen a lot more of a return.”

A spokesperson for the Seminole Tribe encouraged Floridians to look at the 75 page compact as a whole, saying it governs all of the tribe’s gaming operations across the state. The Seminoles added the compact provides stability to the relationship between the state and tribe.

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New television ads sponsored by the Seminole Tribe tout the new jobs that will be added because of the compacts passage and reiterate that the deal is "safe, legal, and trusted."

But, opponents of the deal say that small provision regarding sports betting gives the tribe exclusive access to a potential billion dollar industry. Powerhouse sports betting companies like DraftKings and FanDuel have already launched a $20 million ballot initiative, asking the voters to legalize sports betting everywhere, not just for the Seminole Tribe.

The Seminole Tribe spokesperson called that "effort is funded by millions of out-of-state corporate dollars to try and manipulate the people of Florida, who are too smart for them.”

The compact is also facing legal challenges in state and federal court, with opponents arguing it violates the Florida Constitution and federal gaming regulations.

Meanwhile, the compact itself is a win for Governor DeSantis. The Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida had an initial compact, dating back years. But, the tribe stopped paying in 2019 after a federal judge ruled the state had violated the terms of the deal.

“The governor put in a lot of leg work to get the votes to support this compact,” said Rep. Daley.

Rep. Snyder agreed passing the compact was a priority of the governor, but added he was told by House Leadership to vote his conscious and never felt pressured to vote in support of the deal.

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