When Will Florida Have Sports Betting?

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In exactly one month — Oct. 15 — Florida had hoped to have some form of sports betting up and running.

But just because the governor has signed off on it, and the feds too, doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. 

Opponents have filed numerous legal challenges arguing the compact reached between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida violates a myriad of state and federal laws.  

So what are the odds those in the Sunshine State will be able to bet on the World Series, or any other professional or collegiate sport this year?

Legal Challenges To Compact

There are at least two legal challenges pending against the compact, one in Florida, the other in DC.

The compact, which lawmakers approved in May, gives the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to administer the sports betting program in Florida. While bets eventually would be allowed to be placed anywhere within state lines, the processing for those bets would be done on servers located on Seminole property. 

Since the agreement involves tribal issues, the Department of Interior was required to approve as a result of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, signed off in August. 

But several Miami pari-mutuel companies have balked at the agreement. They have filed cases in both the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida as well as the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia arguing the compact violates IGRA. The latter is of note because DOI is located in DC.

Judge Dabney L. Friedrich, a Trump-appointed judge who has served since 2017, announced yesterday a hearing on the case for Nov. 5.  The plaintiffs, West Flagler Associates — owners of the Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room — have until Sept. 21 to ask for an immediate decision based on the merits of the case.  This is known as summary judgment. They can also ask for an injunction, which would bar the compact from taking effect until a decision is made.

IGRA, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, is very clear about what tribal lands include:

(A) all lands within the limits of any Indian reservation; and

(B) any lands title to which is either held in trust by the United States for the benefit of any Indian tribe or individual or held by any Indian tribe or individual subject to restriction by the United States against alienation and over which an Indian tribe exercises governmental power.

Daniel Wallach, an attorney in Florida, who specializes in gambling issues, has been vocal on Twitter and elsewhere since the compact was signed that the deal violates IGRA.

“JUST IN: Online sports betting in Florida will launch no sooner than Nov. 15, per the Seminole Tribe The new law allowed the Tribe to implement OSB as early as Oct. 15th. It will now be one month later (best-case scenario for Tribe) or not at all (due to likely court ruling).” Wallach tweeted on Wednesday when he was first to report the hearing status. 

Bob Jarvis, a gambling law expert at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, said he expects ultimately that the compact will survive legal challenges. 

“Both cases, in a word, are doomed,” Jarvis said.

The DOI has given its tacit approval to the compact, and no court is going to go against the DOI’s determination.  But if some district court judge does do so, they will be swiftly overturned on appeal.”

Florida Voters Could Vote On Sports Betting In 2022

No matter what happens with the courts, Florida voters could have a say on expanding sports betting in the state in 2022.

In 2018 Florida voters approved a referendum saying gambling could not expand in the state — except on tribal lands — without voter approval. Fan Duel and Draft Kings have joined forces with advocates — notably the curiously named Florida Education Champions — who want online sports betting (OSB) to be available to numerous companies and not just the Seminole Tribe.

The group must garner 891,589 signatures by Feb. 2022 in order to proceed.  As of this morning, according to the Florida Board of Elections, they have received 10,006 valid signatures.

Florida Education Champions, so named because the group argues the proceeds from sports betting would go toward the state’s education needs and not the Seminole Tribe, has been active on social media advocating for signatures. 

We have the opportunity to add hundreds of millions of dollars of new funding to Florida’s public education system by taxing sports betting. Becoming a part of our movement is as easy as 1,2,3! #FLEdChamps” the group tweeted Wednesday.

In an interview earlier this week with News6/clickorlando.com, David Johnson, the chairman of Florida Education Champions, said he was seeing “heightened interest” in the petition now that the summer is over.  He noted many Floridians escape the state during the hot months of June, July, and August. 

What we are doing is exactly what Amendment 3 in 2018 required (us) to do,” he said, explaining their rationale. 

“This would really bring in competition…it really is about choices,” he added.

But Jarvis is not optimistic about the petition’s chances.  Noting the high threshold for signatures and then statewide approval — 60% — advocates don’t have history on their side, he said.  The last time voters approved expanded gambling was the state lottery in the 1980s. 

That said, if the group got the signatures and the referendum was successful, it would negate the compact and give control of the compact to various businesses.

A constitutional amendment would trump, to the extent of any inconsistency, a legislatively-authorized compact,” 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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