Commentary: It’s Going to Take Time for Florida to Untangle Sports Betting Mess

Commentary: It’s Going to Take Time for Florida to Untangle Sports Betting Mess
By Bill Ordine

Florida has itself boxed into a corner on sports betting and it’ll be interesting to see how, or even if, it works itself out of that corner.

The corner is called Amendment 3, which was approved by voters by a 7-to-3 margin in 2018. In short, Amendment 3 says that no new casino gambling can be introduced in the state without voter approval. And to put an exclamation point on things, the voter approval has to be by at least 60%.

When Amendment 3 was on the ballot in 2018, it was backed by state economic powerhouses Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The latter support, by the Seminoles, has turned out to be a note of irony. Then, as now, the Seminoles were the dominating force in casino gambling in the Sunshine State and Amendment 3 would appear to have served as a gate-keeper for the status quo.

Then, along came legalized Florida sports betting. Understand that sports betting is considered to be casino gambling within the Florida gambling framework. So, there is a line of thinking (arguably, the prevailing one right now) that any sports betting initiative would have to go to the voters and also would need to attract a super-majority 60% of the vote for approval.

Courts Say No

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminoles tried an end-run around Amendment 3 last year with a de facto bi-lateral agreement (the Florida legislature did sign off on the scheme) to give the Seminoles control of sports gambling in the state as well as other gaming concessions in exchange for guaranteed billions to state coffers over time.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the sports betting windows. There was a court challenge and a federal court said, “No,” to the DeSantis-Seminole deal. A footnote is that the state had a sports betting app for several weeks before it was shut down.

So, here Florida sits in early 2022 with no sports betting. Meanwhile, out of-state sportsbook operators are scrounging for petition signatures from Jacksonville to the Keys trying to get their own sports gambling referendum on the 2022 ballot. The reality is that the effort faces long odds of succeeding because it’s almost impossible to get enough signatures by the deadline and then go on to win by 60% in November.

Long Road Ahead

If this all sounds like online sports betting in Florida in the near-term is not happening, then you’ve got good hearing.

However, there is a lot of money at stake here. Florida is the third largest state in America by population with more than 21 million people. In addition, another 30 million or so visit Florida every year.

Unquestionably, this is a huge market for sports betting. There are 12 major league-caliber teams in football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey and men’s and women’s soccer, plus a raft of top college sports programs.

But the legal impediments are just as huge, plus there is a host of competing factions in the legal free-for-all, such as out-of-state gambling interests who are determined not to get left out of a market dominated by the Seminoles, in-state commercial gambling interests and traditional gambling opponents. Layered on all this is the state’s constitution and federal Indian law.

Common sense dictates that Florida is too large a market to go on indefinitely without sports gambling but at the moment, there is no odds-on favorite regarding a path to get there.

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Contributors

Bill Ordine
Expert Opinion Columnist

Bill Ordine was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

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