Sports Betting in Florida Still Facing Multiple Obstacles

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Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida

If you think of gambling tax revenues as addictive to state officials as betting is itself to the most ardent gamblers, then you can understand how nothing is going to stop the ultimate expansion of gaming to every single nation in this state. Currently only Utah and Hawaii have no sanctioned gambling in their states, including no lottery system. Maybe there will be a couple of holdouts, for a while, but Las Vegas and Atlantic City are spreading out nationwide. The allure to capture your own residents’ gambling dollars is far too great.

In Florida, expanding gambling to include sports betting meant a new compact with the Native American tribes that control the state’s legal gambling operations on their federally sanctioned lands. To win, elected leaders in Florida including Governor Ron DeSantis moved to update the agreement between the state and the tribes to allow for sports bookmaking. Now, here’s where the legal rub comes in. The State of Florida officials are contending that sports betting should be allowed online, the far greater portion of the sports betting business since the betting servers are physically located on tribal property, even if the gamblers themselves are located elsewhere.

Legalized sports betting is becoming broader and broader, state by state, across the United States since a Supreme Court ruling dramatically eased federal regulation on the industry.

This “what is the actual business location” issue has been argued for years in various vice-related industries. Is the online business simply where the servers physically sit, and therefore subject to those geographic rules, or is it where the customer places the actual order. The Department of the Interior which oversees Native American reservation land in the U.S. will make the call on that. The way the new compact agreement works, even if the online portion of the sports betting is disallowed, the retail or in-person casino sportsbooks will still be allowed to operate.

A second obstacle comes in the form of the anti-gambling activist opposition to any expansion of gaming in Florida. They are citing a 2018 state statute that requires any new gambling outlets to be put to a statewide popular vote. The current compact agreement merely requires legislative approval, which seems certain to pass. State officials are arguing that the 2018 law only refers to the expansion of casinos and casino-style games, not sportsbooks, and therefore they can pass it with a simple legislative majority.

That issue remains to be decided, but given that a statewide popular vote on a gambling expansion is far from a lock, it’s quite an important matter. Politicians from both parties are getting palms greased and eyeballing the $500 million in new tax revenue they can spend, but the average Florida voter may seeing gambling expansion differently.

States will and are all arguing to their constituents, the sports betting is happening either way, don’t you want the betting and the tax revenue to stay at home? It’s a compelling case. More money always is.

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