Florida Legislature Approves Sports Betting But Next Steps Are Murky

Written By Derek Helling on May 19, 2021
florida sports betting

As far as the state government is concerned, legal Florida sports betting is on its way. However, the federal government and probably several judges on both the federal and state level still will have their say in whether FL sports betting actually happens.

The Florida legislature approved new gaming compacts with the Seminole Tribe on Wednesday afternoon. All that really means, though, is the most intense drama is about to begin.

FL sports betting is a done deal, except it isn’t

The whirlwind events in Tallahassee that lead to this point have reached a favorable conclusion. Near the end of April, FL Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he had an agreement in place with the Seminole Tribe on a new compact.

Since then, the conversation about the implementation and legality of the deal has been widespread. That worked its way into the state legislature, which had to consent to the new compacts.

For example, language that might have led to future online casinos in FL threatened to derail approval in the FL Senate. Ultimately, DeSantis and the Seminoles agreed to an amendment to remove that text.

With all parties in agreement, the Senate gave its approval Tuesday. The FL House of Representatives followed suit on Wednesday. Thus, all the legal steps necessary on the state level are complete.

However, because the federal government is also a party to tribal gaming compacts, this is far from a done deal. Approval from the US Dept. of the Interior is no foregone conclusion.

Why the feds might dissent

There is one big reason why the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs might reject the compact as currently worded. It could be a difference of opinion in where bets take place.

The compact’s language would deem statewide online bets in FL to happen on sovereign tribal lands because the sportsbooks’ servers are on such property. However, the Bureau may not see it that way.

Such an interpretation would put the compact in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That law prohibits tribal gaming operators from accepting wagers that don’t take place on their land.

Even if the Bureau ascents and approves the compacts, that might only be a precursor to legal action back in FL. In fact, court challenges seem inevitable either way right now.

There will be lawyers

On the state level, a potential conflict arises with Amendment 3. That’s an addition to the FL constitution that voters approved in 2018. The intent was to restrict gambling only to tribal land in the state.

So, once again, the location of online bets is pertinent. The FL Supreme Court might ultimately decide whether the compacts violate the constitution in that way. That may not be the only court to weigh in, either.

Potential stakeholders like DraftKings Sportsbook might challenge on the federal level. Currently, the only path into the market for them is a ‘marketing deal’ with pari-mutuel pool operators that the Seminole Tribe would contract with.

The tribe would still be the operator in that scenario, however. For that reason, it would get the lion’s share of a 60/40 revenue split. Essentially, a company like FanDuel Sportsbook would lend its branding to the Seminoles and collect royalties.

Such a company could file suit against DeSantis in federal court, pushing the conflict with the IGRA. There are reports that DraftKings if not others have actively lobbied against the compacts.

One way to avoid the entire issue is to remove mobile wagering from the compacts and keep FL sports betting restricted to retail channels for the time being. If that happens, it could be because of the Bureau of Indian Affairs or a successful court challenge. Either of those scenarios are possible right now.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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