Why Florida Sports Betting Is All But Dead Until 2025
Bill Speros | 6 mins
Legal online sports betting in Florida is all but dead until at least 2025, a victim of a poorly executed ballot initiative drive and a gaming compact called "fiction" by a federal judge.
A push backed by DraftKings and FanDuel to get a sports betting question on the 2022 Florida ballot will far short of the signatures needed.
Florida Election Champions has just over half of the 891,589 valid signatures (8% of the vote in the last presidential election) required to earn a ballot spot with less than 96 hours to go before the clock expires. The group has 479,193 valid signatures, according to data provided by the Florida Division of Elections. The deadline is Tuesday, Feb. 1.
Florida Education Champions conceded defeat Friday, saying it had gathered more than 1 million signatures. Sadly for them, the job of verification fell to the local boards of election in each of the state's 67 counties.
“We ran into some serious challenges, but most of all the COVID-19 surge decimated our operations and ability to collect in-person signatures,” Florida Education Champions spokesperson Christina Johnson said in a release. “We will be considering all options in the months ahead to ensure that Floridians have the opportunity to bring safe and legal sports betting to the state, along with hundreds of millions of dollars annually to support public education.”
Next Up: The 2024 Election
The next chance to get a statewide sports betting question before Florida voters comes in the 2024 election. That means no legal online betting from national operators such as DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet or BetMGM until at least 2025. And everything starts over from zero in the next election cycle.
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This drive to legalize mobile sports betting in Florida was doomed from the start. It did not begin until June 2021 and faced fierce opposition by the Seminole Tribe. The state was flooded with ads and mailings, urging registered voters to “sign the petitions.” The Tribe countered at nearly every opportunity, funding commercials that warned voters about “out of state gambling interests.”
The lone hope for legal sports betting in Florida in the next three years will be via the Seminole Tribe. A 30-year compact approved by the state and Tribe last year allowing online sports betting was invalidated by federal judge in November. That case now sits in a federal appeals court. No hearing dates have been set.
DraftKings, FanDuel Spent $37M On Ballot Push
Florida Education Champions, sponsors of the ballot push, received $37.198 million in funding from FanDuel and DraftKings. That’s 99.99% of their total. FanDuel spent $14,486,054.77 on the effort. DraftKings funded $22,712,500. The last reported contribution made to the group by either FanDuel or DraftKings came on Nov. 18.
In December, Florida Education Champions raised just $40 while spending $9,329,733.14. As of the end of 2021, the organization had spent $36,097,536.49 of the $37,092,913 it has raised. The finance data made available by the state runs through Dec. 31, 2021.
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If approved by voters after getting on the ballot, the proposed law would allow legal mobile sports betting at professional sports venues, pari-mutuel facilities and statewide “via online sports betting platforms by entities authorized to conduct online sports betting, and by Native American tribes with a Florida gaming compact, only for persons age 21 years or older.” All such money received by the state would be directed toward education spending.
The “entities authorized” would be those operators who had been licensed in more than 10 states for at least a year.
Hidden Figures Even More Troubling
Even more troubling for this ballot initiative’s chances was its inability to qualify in any of the state’s Congressional districts. In addition to gaining the necessary total of signatures statewide to get on the ballot, Florida law requires that any ballot initiative gets at least 8% of the most-recent presidential election vote total in at least 14 of the state’s 27 districts.
Here is a rundown of each of the state’s Congressional districts with the number of signatures needed and validated for ballot qualification.
|Congressional District||Largest County||Signatures Required||Signatures Gathered|
|District 18||St. Lucie||36,581||20,324|
|District 21||Palm Beach||33,124||9,991|
The only congressional district where it appears the ballot push could reach the required threshold is District 4, which includes a part of Jacksonville and Duval County, home of the NFL’s Jaguars.
Tribe’s Sports Betting Push Rests In Appeals Court
Amendment 3 was passed by Florida voters in 2018. It requires that any expansion of gambling within the state off Indian land get approval by at least 60% of the voters in a statewide election. It also requires that any gaming-related initiative get the support of citizen signatories to get on the ballot, removing the state legislature from the equation. The primary financial backers of Amendment 3 were the Seminole Tribe and Disney.
The Tribe’s hope to resume mobile wagering is on judicial life-support. Judge Dabney Friedrich voided the gaming compact between the state and Seminole Tribe, which included the Tribe’s online sports betting operation. Her ruling halted sports betting in Florida by the Tribe through its Hard Rock sports betting app after a 34-day run.
The compact used a “hub-and-spoke” approach that facilitated sports betting statewide through servers on Indian lands. Friedrich called the compact “fiction” in her ruling, saying that it violated both Florida law and the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The case is now before the United States Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit. The Department of Interior has joined the Seminole Tribe in the appeal.
The Tribe and state are free to create a new compact allowing sports betting – but only on Tribal lands and in their casinos.
Another 2022 Florida ballot initiative that would limit the ability for current cardroom license holders to offer casino betting is closer to earning a ballot spot but will also fall short. The push has received more than $49.5 million in funding from the Las Vegas Sands Company. Even though it has 719,650 of the 891,589 signatures needed statewide, it has only reached the needed threshold in five of the state’s 27 districts, with three others in reasonable reach.