Lawmakers Pass Sports Betting In Florida, Final Approval Expected Wednesday

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It’s Day 2 of the Florida Special Session on expanding gambling operations and despite reservations from some lawmakers and legal experts, it appears destined for full legislative approval by tomorrow.

The Senate passed the compact, Senate Bill 2A,  38-1. The House is slated to take it up for full consideration tomorrow. 

“This is going to bring in billions of dollars that we could use however we want to — either to plug budget holes or to work on education or health or more resiliency or more septic to sewer or making our beaches ready for hurricanes,” state Sen. Travis Hutson (R), the bill’s sponsor, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“The money is endless in terms of where we could plug these holes.”

House Committee Passes Compact, But Not Without Discussions Of Legality

The House Select Committee on Gaming passed the compact measure, House Bill 1A,  25 to 5, but only after nearly 3 hours of debate.  

“I just don’t think we are getting enough money [and] I am very troubled at the 30-year length.  It’s too long,” said state Rep. Joseph Geller (D). 

Governor Ron DeSantis (R) negotiated the compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida last month. The deal gives the Tribe exclusive rights to operate sports betting in the state. All mobile applications will run through the Tribe’s servers on tribal property. 

In exchange for this deal, the Tribe agrees to pay the state a minimum of $500 million annually. The Tribe was paying the state $350 million under the terms of a 2010 compact, but stopped paying when they felt the state expanded gambling operations without their approval.   

Opponents of the bill, however, repeatedly questioned the legality of the compact. Some argued it goes against a 2018 voter referendum approved that stipulated only voters — and not the legislature — could expand gambling opportunities in the state. 

John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, a group that opposes the compact, made similar arguments today that he made yesterday before a different panel.

Others questioned whether the compact would violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act because it sets up servers on tribal lands, but allows for bets to come from mobile phones anywhere in the state. 

The “Randy in the bathtub scenario,” a reference to committee chairman Rep. Randy Fine (R) and comments made early on in the hearing that betting could be anywhere, but not recommended to be done while in the tub, was repeatedly made throughout the hearing. 

George Skibine, who worked for the Department of Interior during both the George W. Bush and Obama administration was brought in by supporters to answer questions about how the compact might be affected by IGRA. 

“The issue is that IGRA requires that gaming occurs on Indian land,’’ he said

“When you have internet gaming, if the bet is placed on Indian land that is definitely Indian gaming. If the bet is placed outside of Indian land and it is received by the Tribe on Indian land, then there is the question as to where the gaming is taking place.”

Florida Sports Betting Likely Headed To Courts For Approval

Even if the full House passes the compact tomorrow as expected, sports betting won’t be up and running in the state until at least Oct. 15. 

Daniel Wallach, a sports attorney who specializes in gambling law, has spoken extensively in recent weeks about how the compact “doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Wallach took to Twitter today and indicated opponents may already be gearing up for a fight. 

“[P]erhaps @NoCasinos might jump the gun in state court by filing suit next week without waiting for DOI approval,” Wallach tweeted

 

About the Author
Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary Shaffrey is a writer and contributor for Gaming Today with a focus on legislation and political content. Mary 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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