How Did Florida Arrive at Legal Sports Betting, Then See it Taken Away?

How Did Florida Arrive at Legal Sports Betting, Then See it Taken Away?
By Howard Gensler

The timeline for Florida sports betting is as twisted as most things in Florida, but before a listing of the most recent developments, a quick look back. Gambling was illegal in Florida until 1931.

Then amid the Great Depression, the state legislature approved betting on horses and dogs. The governor vetoed the law. The legislature overrode the veto.

Four years later, the state okayed slot machines and jai alai. Two more years went by and the state outlawed slot machines. In 1970, as Florida was becoming a haven for retirees, bingo became legal, and the Seminole Indian tribe opened a bingo hall in 1979. In 1978, Florida voters rejected casinos in South Florida. A similar law, with a focus on hotel casinos was voted down in 1986, but the same year voters approved a state lottery.

The year 1988 brought a congressional act to allow casinos on Indian tribal land. Three years later, the Seminoles (the tribe, not Florida State) sued the state for negotiating in bad faith. Five years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state. Two years earlier, in 1994, Florida voters again rejected a casino initiative.

In 2004, by the slimmest of voting margins, slot machines were back — at racetracks and Seminole facilities in a few Florida counties. In 2010, the Seminoles negotiated a broader deal with the state allowing for slot machines in more places and certain card and casino games.

In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly supported an amendment which would give only the voters the right to approve casino gambling in the state. The next three years bring in-fighting among Florida politicians and between the Seminole Tribe and the legislature. When a new deal couldn’t be reached in 2019, the Seminole Tribe withheld its annual payment of more than $300 million.

And now to the present . . .

Florida Sports Betting Timeline

April 23, 2021

The Seminole Tribe signs a new deal with Gov. Ron DeSantis which could pave the wave for sports betting in Florida. The only things standing in its way: Approval of both houses of the Florida state legislature and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

May 17, 2021

A special legislative session seeks new gaming language, allowing racetracks to also offer sports betting but only as sub-licensees of the Seminole Tribe. The Senate approves the language the next day. The House the day after that. DeSantis signs the bill on May 25. All that’s needed now is an okay from the U.S Department of the Interior.

June 7, 2021

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber sends a letter to the Department of Interior urging it to reject the bill, as he claims it violates the state constitution.

June 24, 2021

FanDuel and DraftKings file an initiative to get Florida-wide mobile sports betting on the 2022 ballot and less than a month later commit $10 million each in funding for the initiative.

Aug. 6, 2021

The Department of Interior essentially approves the Seminole Tribe pact with Florida by doing nothing to stop it. Eleven days later, West Flagler Associates, a Florida gaming concern, sues the Department of Interior. September brings another two lawsuits. These are filed in Washington, D.C.

Oct. 19, 2021

The Florida West Flagler lawsuit is dismissed. The Washington, D.C., suits continue.

Nov. 1, 2021

The Seminole Tribe launches its state-wide Hard Rock sportsbook app, proving once again it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Nov. 22, 2021

The federal court in D.C. rules against Florida and the Seminoles, claiming the app violates the law because it’s able to be accessed outside of tribal lands. The Hard Rock app continues in use, however. A week later, the Seminole Tribe appeals.

Dec. 4, 2021

Use of the Hard Rock app is stopped pending appeal.

Jan. 12, 2022

The FanDuel/DraftKings ballot initiative is still short signatures and has until Feb. 1 to get the needed number verified.

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Contributors

Howard Gensler is a veteran journalist who’s worked at the Philadelphia Daily News, TV Guide and the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a founding editor of bettorsinsider.com.

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