Florida Committees Advance Sports Betting Bill

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The special session of the Florida Legislature meant to address Florida sports betting and other gambling-related issues began today, and changes to the historic agreement brokered between Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and the Seminole Tribe are already afoot.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) opened the session by announcing on the floor that the section of the compact some believed could open the door to online gambling has been stricken from the proposal.

“In my discussion with our members I realized many shared the same concern as I — that some language in the compact could be construed to lead to the backdoor expansion of online gaming. Even the mere possibility of this was unacceptable,” he said

Sprowls, a leading proponent of the agreement, also said the Tribe had agreed to push back the possible start date for sports betting until later in the fall. 

“In addition the Tribe has agreed to delay the launch to market the sportsbook component of the compact until Oct. 15, ensuring that the product will be launched with appropriate safeguards,” he said on the floor.

Sprowls’s remarks came during the brief — less than 15 minutes — opening session. He ended his comments saying the full House was expected to vote on the measure by Wednesday night — two days ahead of schedule.

Committees Tackle Sports Betting 

The House Select Subcommittee on the Seminole Compact was one of several panels in both chambers that debated the measure. The committee, like the others, passed the amended bill, House Bill 1A — mostly along party lines.

John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, a leading opponent of the agreement, spoke at length before the committee against the compact.

“We are opposed to this compact and I wish that wasn’t the case,”  he said, noting his group has supported compacts in the past.  “It fails a few tests in our mind.” 

Sowinski has several concerns, notably the results of a 2018 statewide referendum where voters passed by an overwhelming majority — nearly 72% — an amendment to the state constitution. That measure, known as Amendment 3, stipulates they — and not the legislature or the governor — are ultimately to decide on expanded gambling opportunities in the state. 

Florida had an election for president in 2000 that was split by 537 votes, but the 2018 referendum was by more than 3.5 million so the will of the people is clear, he said. 

“Heed the will of the people.  They spoke loud and clear.”

Members of the committee also expressed concern

“This is expansion of gambling,” said state Rep. Michael Greico (D), who represents portions of Miami, expressing disappointment with the legislation.  He was ultimately one of four committee members — all Democrats — to vote against it.

Next Steps For Florida Sports Betting

The bill still must clear other committees before its expected passage later this week.

But even if it clears both chambers and is signed into law by DeSantis, legal hurdles could remain. Since the compact involves tribal issues, the Department of Interior must sign off on it. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is a member the Laguna Pueblo, the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet.  

Even if DOI approves the compact, however, opponents including No Casinos have vowed to fight the measure in court.  

About the Author

Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary Shaffrey is an award-winning journalist who co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Government." She has spent more than 20 years covering government, both at the state and federal level. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and the Providence College Friars she feels cursed. Luckily she is a hockey mom too so her spirits aren't totally shot.

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