Florida Sports Betting: Yes, It’s Happening (Maybe)

Written By J.R. Duren on June 22, 2021 - Last Updated on June 23, 2021

Florida man signs gaming compact. That’s exactly what happened this past month when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a compact with the Seminole Tribe that would launch mobile sports betting in Florida. In a matter of just about three months, talk of a backdoor deal between DeSantis and the tribe turned into a real-deal gaming compact for a Florida online sportsbook that could have significant implications across the South.

But first, the compact has to endure a review by the Department of the Interior and any lawsuits that will likely emerge over the next year.

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Sports Betting in Florida: How We Got Here

Over the past six months, sports betting in Florida has been somewhat of a long shot. Two separate groups of gaming bills made their way to the legislature floor in Tallahassee. Both groups of bills included preliminary frameworks for sports betting. And both sports betting proposals seemed doomed to fail either because of high tax rates or a general distaste for sports betting in a notoriously conservative state.

However, this past March, there was talk of DeSantis working on an updated compact with the Seminole Tribe (the original compact went into effect in 2010) that would allow it to be the exclusive provider of sports betting in the state. The Seminole Tribe owns the Hard Rock casino and hotel empire.

DeSantis also met with pari-mutuel operators throughout the state to discuss the compact, no doubt trying to allay any concerns.

This past May, DeSantis announced he’d reached a deal with the Seminole and had signed an updated compact that, among other changes, allowed Florida online sports betting.

What It Means

This compact is a big win for the Seminole tribe because it gives them exclusive rights to mobile Florida sports betting. The tribe would run all sports betting activity through servers located on Seminole land; therefore (in the tribe’s opinion), making all bets exempt from state gambling laws whether bets are placed on sovereign land or a bar in Jacksonville.

In exchange for exclusive rights over sports betting and other gaming expansion, the tribe would pay the state “billions of dollars over the next few years” and create more than 2,000 jobs, DeSantis said in a press release.

Should the compact overcome a review by the Department of Interior (DOI) and future lawsuits, there’s no doubt that sports betting operators will covet a Florida sports betting license more than a Tim Tebow Jaguars jersey.

Will It Pass?

There are two main obstacles the tribe faces in the immediate future: the DOI review and lawsuits.

Per the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA), compacts of this nature must undergo a 45-day review to ensure that what’s proposed is in line with federal regulations. The DOI has several options:

  • Accept or reject the compact outright
  • Accept the compact but cut out certain provisions like sports betting
  • Stay silent, which would allow the compact to pass

Should the DOI approve the compact, it will likely issue its reasoning for approval, a key step that could help the compact survive scrutiny in future federal and state lawsuits, Daniel Wallach, founder of sports-betting-focused Florida law firm Wallach Legal, told TheLines in a phone interview.

Will the compact and its sports betting provisions survive the DOI’s scrutiny? The answer is complicated. As Wallach pointed out, no compact that includes online sports betting has ever made it past a DOI review.

At the same time, the Seminole tribe isn’t naive. An effort of this magnitude would likely not have taken place if they knew the compact would be shot down during the DOI review or would be on shaky legal ground should lawsuits commence.

Another factor to consider: anti-gaming group No Casinos has launched a counterattack. The group claims that the compact violates Florida Amendment 3, which requires all gaming expansion measures to undergo a popular vote to gain legalization.

With the DOI’s review still in progress and opposition slowly growing, there is no guarantee that the compact’s mobile sports betting provisions will become a reality.

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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has written for a wide variety of publications, both online and print, including Snooth, the Villages Daily Sun, Bespoke Post, Our Amazing Norway, and Barcelona Metropolitan. He has thrice been recognized as a winner of the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism contest.

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