Florida voters could decide whether sports betting is coming to the state, regardless of what happens with the gaming compact recently signed between the governor and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The ballot question, which has yet to appear on the Florida Division of Elections official state website, would need to garner 60% of the vote in order to pass. The development comes less than a month after Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new compact between the state and the Seminoles, giving the tribe exclusive rights to sports betting operations in the state.
“[I]t seems like this is an effort by DraftKings and FanDuel to have a ‘Plan B’ in case the compact gets derailed, either by the U.S. Department of the Interior or the courts,” said Bob Jarvis, a professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale who specializes in gambling law, said in an email to Gaming Today.
“That’s actually pretty smart on the part of DraftKings and FanDuel, given that they don’t really care how Florida get(s) sports betting as long as it gets sports betting.”
Where Does Sports Betting In Florida Stand?
The compact signed last month now sits at the Department of Interior. Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet, is the DOI Secretary and a member of the Laguna Pueblo. She has until early July to make a decision.
Floridians in 2018 voted overwhelmingly to bar expanded gambling opportunities in the state without voter approval first. This means the governor and the legislature could not approve gambling on their own. The exception to this rule was tribal gaming, which has been in the state since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed Congress in 1988. The recently signed compact stipulates sports betting would take place on tribal lands because the servers processing the bets would be housed in tribal facilities.
Ironically the tribe and NoCasinos, the leading advocacy group against the compact, worked together in 2018 to pass the referendum. This time around, however, they are on different sides.
“The flaws are many and they are fatal,” John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, wrote DOI earlier this month, urging the government to reject the compact.
Sowinski and others, however, have vowed even if DOI approves the compact they will take the measure to the courts.
What Would A Sports Betting Referendum Look Like?
Until the state website updates the referendum, it’s unclear what the specifics would entail. By going the referendum route, however, supporters of sports betting address head-on many of the concerns of opponents, by allowing the people themselves to decide.
But Jarvis warned that a ballot initiative won’t be easy. Voters have a long history of opposition to expanded gambling in the state well beyond the 2018 referendum.
“While many Floridians follow sports and want sports betting, there is a large group of Floridians who are opposed to any sort of gambling expansion,” he said.
Daniel Wallach, an attorney in Florida who specializes in gambling law and has been an outspoken opponent to the compact, said on Twitter he expected the referendum to cost at least $200 million once all is said and done.