To the rest of the country, Florida often seems to march to the beat of its own drummer. Yes, things admittedly do tend to stray from the norm in the tropics. That could well hold true for the prospects of legalized sports betting in Florida as well.
Other states enjoy a much more straightforward path to passing sports betting legislation. Jurisdictions without a tribal presence certainly have one less hoop through jump through. Those whose legislators have the full authority to expand gaming options within the state have an advantage in that regard, as well.
Florida has a unique set of challenges
Predictably, the situation is more complex in Florida.
- The existing compact between the powerful Seminole Tribe and the state is one factor. The Seminoles have rights to cease their $19.5 million monthly payments to the state if legislators vote to expand certain forms of commercial gaming.
- Another wild card is Amendment 3, set to be voted on in November. While passage will require a supermajority of 60 percent of voters, there’s plenty of money behind the initiative. Disney and the Seminoles alone have laid out more than a combined $16 million as of mid-May to back Voters In Charge, the political action committee spearheading the effort.
Amendment 3, if passed, will put proposed future expansion of any activity that falls under the definition of Class III gaming in the hands of voters. According to a 2007 legal opinion issued by then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, “any sports betting and parimutuel wagering including but not limited to wagering on horse racing, dog racing or jai alai” is classified as Class III.
Interestingly, the text of Amendment 3 specifically exempts pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, dog racing or jai-alai from the type of activities it seeks to place under future voter control. However, it makes no mention of sports betting. There may be a legal gray area there as a result, but testing it would likely be an arduous and expensive process.
What’s legalized sports betting’s clearest path?
That begs the question – are sports betting’s chances for future legalization in Florida better served by the passage or failure of Amendment 3? Through layman eyes, it’s close to 50/50.
- On the one hand, Florida legislators have in the past often moved at a molasses-like pace when it comes to expansion of gaming in the state. The necessity of ensuring tribal compacts aren’t run afoul of admittedly bogs down such efforts at times.
- Conversely, if left solely to voters in terms of a “yay” or “nay” on legalization, matters might unfold a lot more efficiently. And public perception would play a pivotal role in this scenario. While sports betting may be lumped in with several other forms of casino gaming by legal definition, it seemingly has its own niche in the eyes of the masses.
Many who might stay away from and oppose the proliferation of slots, poker and the like have nevertheless placed a friendly wager or three on their favorite team, or on the Super Bowl. A certain percentage have undoubtedly sunk some cash into March Madness pools with friends or co-workers. Quite a few may be passionate season-long and/or daily fantasy players that are already used to having a financial interest in the games they watch.
And naturally, there’s always more than a few who actively patronize a local bookie or offshore sportsbook.
Therefore, if it comes down to either lawmakers or voters forming enough consensus to pass a measure first, I’m probably leaning toward the latter in the case of sports betting legalization.
An expert opinion on Florida’s sports betting’s current legal landscape
Sports law attorney Daniel Wallach has a wealth of experience with respect to gaming regulatory issues in Florida.
Unsurprisingly, he holds a multitude of opinions on the multiple moving parts at play with respect to the future of legalized sports betting within the state:
- Wallach feels sports betting’s path of least resistance is through the legislature, as opposed to being left to voters under a scenario where Amendment 3 successfully passes. Under that framework, not only would any proposed legalized sports betting measure have to meet a certain threshold with voters to pass, legislators would then have to agree on a regulatory framework, tax rates, licensing fees, etc.
- Wallach sees Amendment 3’s chances of passing as relatively bleak anyhow, as the required bar of a 60 percent supermajority is a high one to meet.
- Eventually, Florida is likely to feel a certain amount of pressure to legalize sports betting if an increasing number of neighboring states pass legislation. The state also loses significant amount of money in both tourism dollars and tax revenue from gaming operators from this point forward with every passing year it fails to legalize sports betting.
- Sports betting is much more widely integrated and accepted in society than other forms of gaming (i.e. poker, slots) and has “passionate fandom” as an underlying foundation that other gaming activities can’t quite claim.
- The usual stagnation with regards to gaming expansion among legislators will eventually reach a tipping point; there are too many potential stakeholders in the state and too much money to be made all the way around for sports betting to be put off for too much longer.
- Consequently, a window of 3-to-5 years is likely the time frame within which we see sports betting become a reality in Florida. The caveat to that prognosis is whether Amendment 3 succeeds, which potentially makes passage of future legislation more cumbersome.