Could A Special Session Tackle Florida Sports Betting?

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The clock is winding down for the Florida Legislature to address sports betting, with the 2021 session slated to end in just 11 days. 

But an influential state leader is touting the idea that lawmakers could return to Tallahassee later this year to focus solely on Florida sports betting.

State Senate President Wilton Simpson (R) told local reporters last week he is open to doing whatever it takes to get a deal done this year.

“I believe we’re in a reasonable place that a compact could get finished sometime this year, maybe in the next week or two, maybe in a special session,” Simpson said, as reported by the online news site Florida Politics. “I’m not pushing that off, I just think these things are very complex issues and it takes a while.”

Where Things Stand

Advocates in Florida had thought perhaps this would be the year. Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has been working behind the scenes for months with leaders of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

His goal is to bring sports betting to the Sunshine State and to get the tribe to resume annual payments of nearly $350 million that they stopped paying several years ago when the previous governor expanded gambling opportunities in the state not sanctioned by the tribe. 

It appeared last week the tribe rejected DeSantis’s latest offer which the Miami Herald reported would have given them control of sports betting in exchange for letting the state approve additional casinos, not under tribal control, in various parts of the state, including Miami. 

According to Simpson, DeSantis and others are still trying to strike a deal.

“The governor and his teams have been working very hard the last few weeks in earnest to try to get this wrapped up,” he said while speaking with reporters in Tallahassee.

Not all leaders, however, are optimistic the issue will be addressed this year.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) said earlier in the week he thought they were unlikely to reach a deal.

“I think we’re pretty late at this point,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Other Gambling Initiatives Move Forward

While sports betting and expanded casinos are the big prizes, lawmakers are moving ahead with two other bills related to gambling in the state.

The first measure, Senate Bill 7076, establishes the Florida Gaming and Control Commission, operated by the Attorney General’s office.   

The second bill, Senate Bill 7080, allows certain horse racing tracks, jai alai establishments, and greyhound racetracks to cease offering live races. It would only go into law, however, if SB 7076 passes as well.

Both passed out of the Senate Regulated Industry Committee last week and are scheduled to come before the full Senate Wednesday. 

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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