We’ll try to keep this simple, but like any billion-dollar business venture, it isn’t.
Florida thought it would have legal sports betting off the ground by now — the target was October 2021 — and the Seminole Tribe even launched the state’s first sports app under the Hard Rock brand on Nov. 1.
But legal challenges to the app halted its use in December and now all the parties are trying to figure out the next move for Florida sports betting. The Seminoles are appealing the federal court ruling which voided their compact with the state.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state legislature still claim that sports betting in Florida is legal now, but, in another twist, Floridians successfully voted in 2018 to amend the state’s constitution to give voters the power to decide when and how any future expansion of gambling becomes legal.
Florida Sports Betting Initiatives
As Floridians have previously voted down expansions, and numerous groups are fighting against an expansion, this is not a gimme. On the pro-expansion side, FanDuel and DraftKings, under the banner Florida Education Champions, are leading a well-funded move to get legalized state-wide sports betting on the 2022 ballot.
Also, Las Vegas Sands has poured tens of millions into another pro-expansion group, Florida Voters in Charge. The groups have until February to get the required number of valid, verified signatures for their ballot initiative.
As an expansion of gambling the way FanDuel and DraftKings and Las Vegas Sands want it is unlikely to benefit the Seminole Tribe, who currently control gambling in the state, the Seminoles are funding a move against the petition, Standing Up for Florida, and hoping to keep sports betting off the ballot.
Las Vegas Sands and the Seminole Tribe are now suing each other. The Sands group claimed the Seminole-backed group illegally interfered with its petitioning. The Seminole Tribe filed a counter-suit claiming the Sands-backed group was illegally paying petition gatherers per-signature and forging information.
The Seminole Tribe is going all in to protect its gambling empire because the sports betting compact the Seminoles signed with DeSantis in April 2021, gave them sole control of sports betting in the state. In return for the sports betting exclusivity, the state got a revenue sharing agreement with the Seminoles starting at around $500 million per year. The 30-year deal is set to expire in 2051.
Opponents argue that the deal with the Seminoles was unconstitutional and gives them rights well beyond their original federally guaranteed rights to host gambling on tribal lands. Pending the appeal, the federal court has so far agreed with the opponents.
More Legal Challenges Ahead
The 2021 DeSantis-Seminole pact even has something of a poison pill in it, claiming that should the tribe lose the ability to offer sports betting to Floridians not on tribal lands, then sports betting will be allowed only on tribal lands. Goodbye apps.
Will every sportsbook eventually coming to Florida therefore have to make a licensing arrangement with the Seminoles? That’s the way the Tribe sees it. Others see it differently.
All this means is that before the sportsbooks get rich in Florida, the lawyers and lobbyists will get rich first.