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What’s Next For Florida Sports Betting? Amendment Best Option For Bettors

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 7 mins

What’s Next For Florida Sports Betting? Amendment Best Option For Bettors

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Legal sports betting in Florida lasted three weeks before a federal judge tossed the gaming compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe Monday.

What’s next? There are many options, not all of them mutually exclusive.

The compact allowed mobile Florida sports betting anywhere in the state using servers located on Indian lands. The 30-year deal guaranteed the state $500 million in annual revenue for five years and permitted roulette and craps inside Indian-owned casinos. U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich in the District of Columbia ruled for the plaintiffs in a pair of lawsuits and nullified the entire compact between the state and tribe saying that it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

"Although the Compact 'deem[s]' all sports betting to occur at the location of the Tribe’s 'sports book(s)' and supporting servers, this Court cannot accept that fiction," the judge wrote. "When a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by 'deeming' their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not."

The Seminole Tribe was not listed as a defendant in either lawsuit. On Tuesday afternoon, the Tribe filed a 28-page motion asking the judge to issue a stay in the case. The Tribe also filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Hard Rock Sports Betting app was still taking deposits and wagers as of Tuesday evening. Florida has 22.4 million people and was the most populous state in the nation with legal sports betting until the ruling. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the compact, said Tuesday the state is reviewing the "perplexing" ruling, adding "it's unclear what impact the ruling has in Florida."

Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner told Bookies.com earlier Tuesday the Tribe was “reviewing the Judge’s opinion and carefully considering its next steps.”

So, what are the options for Florida sports betting going forward? Let’s take a look:

Legalize Sports Betting At The Ballot Box

What’s Next For Florida Sports Betting? Amendment Best Option For Bettors 1

This would be the best way – in the end – for sports betting to happen in Florida. Consumers would have choice and betting sites and betting apps would be forced to compete in a fair and open marketplace. However, its prospects for 2022 are far from certain.

One group of plaintiffs represented, in part, the “No Casinos” campaign that helped to get Florida’s Amendment 3 passed in 2018. That law bans the expansion of gambling in Florida off Indian lands without 60% voter approval. Its main sponsors were – drumroll please – the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Disney company.

DraftKings and FanDuel have poured more than $32 million into a drive to get a sports betting referendum on the 2022 Florida ballot, fronted by a group called Florida Education Champions.

The amendment would initially allow those 21 and over to participate in Florida online sports betting on pro and collegiate events, but only from sportsbooks that have been legally licensed in at least 10 other states for at least one year, in addition to the Seminole Tribe.

The mission now is to land enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Petitions featuring the logos of both DK and FanDuel have landed in the mailboxes of registered Florida voters urging them to return a signed version of the pre-completed form.

Struggling to Get Signatures

As of its Oct. 31 filing with the Florida Division of Elections, Florida Education Champions had spent $16,227,053.66 of the $32,712,796 it received in contributions. Of those contributions, $22,712,500 came from FanDuel and $10 million was from DraftKings.

To get an initiative certified for the 2022 Florida ballot, 891,589 valid signatures are required. Those signatures must come from at least 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts. There are currently 33 ballot initiatives filed in Florida for the 2022 ballot.

As of Tuesday, 117,688 valid signatures have been acquired in support of the sports betting ballot item. There are 70 days remaining before the deadline for verification - Feb. 1, 2022. Florida Education Champions needs another 773,901 signatures to get a ballot spot. That’s an average of 11,056 new validated signatures daily. The measure will then need 60% of the vote to become law.

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TV ads continue to fill the airwaves during sporting events and newscasts across Florida. They are airing in support and opposition to the ballot bid. Ads backed by $10 million in funding by the Seminole Tribe demand voters “don’t sign the gambling petitions”. Those ads hit “out of state gambling companies” who would turn Florida into “another Las Vegas.”

Florida Education Champions fought back with a series of TV ads of its own called “win-win,” urging registered voters in Florida to return their signed petitions.

The ads blast the Tribe’s monopoly and touts the fact that money generated by the proposed amendment would be used for education. “Everyone loves a win-win, and if you’re a fan of sports betting, you can win-win, too!” declares a narrator standing in front of a school chalk board. “Billions of dollars for education. Legal sports betting for you!”

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Contest The Judge’s Decision

What’s Next For Florida Sports Betting? Amendment Best Option For Bettors 2

The State of Florida filed an amicus brief in one of the lawsuits. The compact was considered a big legislative win for Gov. DeSantis, who has been seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2024 and faces re-election in 2022.

The plaintiffs represented casino owners and a group opposed to the expansion of gambling in the Sunshine State. They sued the Department of Interior, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.

“Judge Friedrich’s opinion is unlikely to have any immediate effect,” said long-time Florida attorney and professor of law at Nova Southeastern University Bob Jarvis. “By vacating the entire compact she just cost the State of Florida $500 million a year. To say nothing to what she just did to the Department of the Interior and other tribes that hoped to use the Seminoles’ compact as a blueprint for their own future negotiation. I assume that during the appeal her decision will be stayed, which will allow the Seminoles to continue to operate their games.

“I fully expect that the D.C. Circuit will overturn Judge Friedrich, and if not the D.C. Circuit, then the U.S. Supreme Court. But even if she is affirmed by both higher courts, Congress always can simply amend IGRA to allow off-reservation sports betting (or all betting). There already is such a bill in Congress, and all tribes with gambling operations now will turn up the heat to get that bill (or one like it) passed.”

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Pass Another Compact

In her 25-page ruling, Judge Friedrich was specific and deliberate in terms of remedies for the state and Tribe.

“The State and the Tribe may agree to a new compact, with the Secretary’s approval, that allows online gaming solely on Indian lands,” she wrote. “Alternatively, Florida citizens may authorize such betting across their State through a citizens’ initiative. What the Secretary may not do, however, is approve future compacts that authorize conduct outside IGRA’s scope. And IGRA, as the Supreme Court explained in Bay Mills, authorizes gaming ‘on Indian lands, and nowhere else.”

The compact was passed in a special session of the Florida Legislature last April with overwhelming support in the House and Senate. The Florida Legislature just held another special session to pass several laws, including one that punished employers for mandating that employees are vaccinated against COVID-19.

A new special session is unlikely given the calendar. The 60-day session for the Florida legislature begins on Jan. 11. Depending on the legal landscape at the time, a completely revised compact could be on the table, since Judge Friedrich nullified the entire deal despite its severability clause.

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Monopoly Was A Necessary Component

The Seminole Tribe of Florida was given a monopoly on sports betting by the compact. Given the circumstances and background, that was seen as the only option to get a deal done.

The relationship between the state and the Tribe is complex. There is no formal treaty between the Seminole Tribe and the United States. Thus, the Tribe could potentially sue for damages on that front. A gaming compact with the Tribe signed in 2010 was seen as a way to mitigate that concern and give the Tribe exclusivity to gaming revenues outside parimutuel sites that had been legalized in the early 20th Century.

The sides completed a new deal concerning card games in 2015, when poker was allowed at pari-mutuel facilities by the state. But that deal was never approved by the legislature. The Tribe subsequently walked away from the entire deal. That move has cost the state nearly $300 million in annual revenue.

This new compact was seen as a way to get that revenue back by the state, while giving the Tribe the opportunity to expand its gaming offerings.

About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.