Will 2021 Include a Florida With Legalized Sports Wagering?

Florida Sports Wagering

  • New legislation introduced for FL sports wagering with many old issues to be resolved
  • It seems clear all roads to progress & potential legalization go through Seminole Tribe
  • Questions remain whether a new Florida voter referendum would be necessary 

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The simple answer to the prevailing headline is highly unlikely. Florida will not see 2021 conclude with legislative certainty to include legalized sports wagering. At best, the people of the Sunshine State can only hope for a ray of that sunshine including some promise of definite progress toward the goal.

Not to be negative, but it would seem by now that all roads to potential legalization for sports wagering go through the Seminole Tribe, who dominate all wagering power within the state along with all lobbying and political persuasion. The Native American Seminole Tribe own the Hard Rock, where two of their monumental, successful properties lie within the state along with four other Seminole casinos.

While claiming exclusivity over sports wagering in Florida, it is still a gray area whether the Seminoles have federal jurisdiction. It is within that definition where sports wagering is included by a Class III license.

Several disagreements over gaming issues have resulted in the Seminoles to stop honoring the revenue-sharing agreement. After an appeal from the Florida government, there seemed to be some movement toward a new agreement but it recently broke-down as many other attempts have in the past.

Brandes Tries Again

A few well-meaning Florida state senators have piloted previous efforts to push legislation through, providing Florida citizens sports wagering plus feed the state very necessary ancillary tax funding. None have worked harder than Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-FL).

On Monday Brandes introduced a new package of sports betting legislation, marking his second such attempt involving the sports wagering issue in about a year.

Brandes has authored three bills — Senate Bill 392 (SB 392), SB 394, and SB 396 for the upcoming Florida 2021 legislative session commencing in March. Similar legislation was pitched by Brandes in late 2019, however, it failed in the 2020 session due to it being an election year. Also, lawmakers were skittish about potentially contentious issues, which included legalizing sports wagering without the Seminoles consent.

The optimism here is that SB 392 more firmly establishes who is and who is not eligible to participate in sports wagering in Florida. It also outlines licensing requirements and fees along with the role the FL Department of Lottery will play within the jurisdiction.

A portion of the bill states:

Authorizing certain persons to place wagers on a sports event under certain circumstances; providing duties and responsibilities of the Department of the Lottery relating to sports pools; authorizing persons to apply to the department for a license to operate a sports pool; authorizing a licensee to have certain websites and applications under certain circumstances; requiring the department and licensees to adopt certain procedures to prevent certain persons from wagering; providing for the disbursement of unclaimed winnings, etc.

What Legislation Truly Means

It is quite tricky for Florida to write any new legislation that definitively includes the Seminoles involvement; however, it seems understood that no further progress will be made without their participation and consensual agreement.

Last year State Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-FL), who is currently president of the senate introduced a bill with the Seminoles that allowed for sports wagering at their casinos and at Florida pari-mutuel establishments to no avail. Recently he updated his opinion that Florida is willing to update the discussion and maximize new opportunities for the state, but the timing is not right for any new legislation.

Adding to the discouraging picture is Florida voter approval on Amendment 3 from 2018.  That states:

This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/tribal compacts.

Although the amendment does not explicitly mention “sports wagering” it is legally assumed to be included in the definition under casino gambling, giving the Seminole tribe a definite say in the pending issue.

As some potentially positive news, the Hard Rock this month announced the launching of “Hard Rock Digital”. According to CEO Jim Allen, it will broaden the digital business, embrace consumer experiences, and offer across interactive gaming and sportsbook offerings”.  Named to lead the project are gaming industry heavyweights including Rafi Ashkenazi, Marlon Goldstein, and Keith Primaeaux.  Their business plan would undoubtedly include a major focus on Florida.

Measuring Hope

While sports wagering for Florida does not seem imminent, it is encouraging to see just what it will definitively take to make it happen.

First, will be getting Brande’s new bill to the floor, allowing it to be heard and therefore having a positive opportunity for debate. IE: what will work, what will not work, and what steps are necessary for it to achieve the critical votes to advance.

Amendment 3 easily passed in 2018, received 71% support, and is now part of the Florida state constitution. Repealing it is not going to happen, therefore some kind of referendum would likely have to be drawn up to exclude sports wagering.  It would also have to include the Seminole tribe’s involvement but with fair participation from other business sources. I would assume any potential referendum would also likely require FL voter approval, further delaying any action for 2021.

In summation, it seems inevitable that someday a major headline will read for Florida beginning legalized sports wagering. But seeing that someday occur in 2021, unfortunately, remains a disappointing longshot.

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Larry Gibbs

Expert on Sports Betting Industry

Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.

Email: [email protected]