Sports Betting In Florida Will Be Legal By NFL Kickoff, State Expert Says

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Florida residents could legally be placing sports bets by the start of the NFL season in September because the historic 2021 Florida Gaming Compact signed Friday between Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and the Seminole Tribe of Florida will pass federal and state constitutional muster, so says a Florida constitutional law expert.

Bob Jarvis, who also specializes in gambling law and is a professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, said during an hour-long interview Monday with Gaming Today that the deal is a lock to become law. 

“The tribe has excellent lawyers and the governor’s office believes this is going to work, so it’s going to work,” he said. 

Jarvis said that “no one who is serious has come out against it and said it’s not going to work,” so any complaints are nothing more than a “smokescreen.”

Federal Concerns Over Florida Gaming Compact

Daniel Wallach, a sports gambling expert, has repeatedly warned over the weekend on radio shows and on Twitter that the deal has problems.  

Wallach said on Fox Sports Radio-Florida Monday morning that this compact will “never fly” because the courts have repeatedly said that the gambling that takes place must be completely on tribal lands.

“It is set up as a Trojan Horse that is destined to fail,” he said.  

Because the deal includes tribal issues the US Department of Interior has a say. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland is a member of the Pueblo Leguna tribe in New Mexico, the first Native American to serve in a cabinet. Even if she agrees with the Seminole Tribe, Wallach predicted the courts won’t. He expects the debate could last more than a year. 

But Jarvis said the federal law that governs this policy, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, was developed with the tribes in mind. So if the Seminoles are supporting the deal, he sees no reason it could legally not withstand a challenge. 

“When tribes go and say they want this [I don’t see] what basis the DOI and the [National Indian Gaming Commission] don’t sign off on it…it’s simply too good a deal for the Seminoles,” he said. “It gives the Seminoles everything they have been asking for and they are not going to get a better deal.”

State Constitution And The 2021 Florida Gaming Compact

In 2018 Sunshine State voters passed by an overwhelming majority — more than 70% — an amendment to the state constitution that said the governor and the legislature could not approve new gambling in the state.   

Under the terms of the vote, only voters could approve new gambling options in the state, not the governor or the legislature.

No Casinos was one of the leading advocates in favor of the referendum, along with ironically, the Seminole Tribe. John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, thinks the Florida Gaming Compact violates the referendum by three different measures.

Because the proposed compact allows for sports betting, allows for gambling at non-tribal locations, and authorizes decoupling of game rooms from pari-mutuals, the deal is a “clear violation” of the voters’ intent, Sowinski said in an interview with Florida Politics, an online news service. 

Again, Jarvis said this logic won’t stand up. 

The language of the constitutional amendment, specifically Article 10, Sec. 30, Paragraph C, stipulates: 

Nothing herein shall be deemed to limit the right of the Legislature to exercise its authority through general law to restrict, regulate, or tax any gaming or gambling activities. In addition, nothing herein shall be construed to limit the ability of the state or Native American tribes to negotiate gaming compacts pursuant to the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands, or to affect any existing gambling on tribal lands pursuant to compacts executed by the state and Native American tribes pursuant to IGRA. 

“The amendment was designed to stop Las Vegas-style casinos,” said Jarvis. The way the amendment was written it specifically says what the governor and the tribe agreed to is acceptable, he added. 

Now What’s In Store For Florida Betting?

Leaders of the Florida House and Senate have agreed to have a special session next month, beginning on May 17 to address the compact.  

Jarvis said the legislature will have some kinks to work out, including how mobile sports betting will be administered and ensuring geofencing. Geofencing is the technology used to make certain bettors are only placing bets within Florida state lines. 

As the compact stands now, the tribes control everything. Jarvis noted that there will be a steep learning curve so they will want to reach out to the experts at FanDuel and William Hill and others to get the system up and running. 

“The tribe will be sure to have some sports betting by the NFL kickoff at Hard Rock Tampa and Hard Rock Hollywood,” he said, adding he was sure the large mobile app companies would be happy to work with the tribe to make sure things work out. 

“This is such a big deal with so much money to be shared. Everybody is going to get fat,” he said. 

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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