In one fell swoop, Florida just became the largest state in the country with legalized sports betting.

Florida online sports betting, as well as the entire Florida gaming compact, was approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior late Friday after 45-days of deliberations. The 30-year gaming compact is estimated to bring $6 billion to the Sunshine State over the next 30 years and officially legalize Florida sports betting. It gives exclusive sports betting rights to the Seminole Tribe and is estimated to provide $2.5 billion to the state in the first 5 years alone, with annual payments of at least $500 million.

Florida legislators approved the sweeping compact on May 19.

“After thorough review under IGRA, we have taken no action to approve or disapprove the Compact before August 5, 2021, the 45th day. As a result, the Compact is considered to have been approved by operation of law to the extent that it complies with IGRA and existing Federal law. The Compact will become effective upon the publication of notice in the Federal Register,” Bryan Newland, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, wrote in the Department of the Interior’s approval letter.

Florida online sports betting can begin on Oct. 15

The earliest date online sports betting is permitted to begin is Oct. 15, 2021. The Seminole Tribe could launch online sports betting through its Hard Rock Digital sportsbook and retail sports betting at its Hard Rock Casino locations.

A sticking point of the compact for Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe was the legality of online sports betting in the state. The compact argued that casino servers would be housed on tribal property, thus any bet placed in the state will be deemed to take place where the servers are located, which did not technically violate federal law. While several organizations and pundits argued otherwise, the Department of the Interior noted that federal law should change with new and emerging technologies and the compact’s reasoning for online sports betting should stand.

“In examining the permissibility of mobile sports betting under IGRA as a novel matter, the Department seeks to uphold the intent of IGRA and notes that: 1) evolving technology should not be an impediment to tribes participating in the gaming industry; 2) the pursuit of mobile gaming is in-line with the public policy considerations of IGRA to promote tribal economic development, self sufficiency, and strong tribal governments; and 3) the purposes of IGRA would be served through the improvement of tribal-state cooperation in the regulation of mobile wagering,” the department noted in its letter.

Pari-Mutuel sports betting?

The federal government did not, however, approve the compact’s proposal to allow third-party sportsbooks to offer sports betting through qualified pari-mutuels. It did allow partnerships between the tribe and pari-mutuels to continue offering certain card games at the facilities that have been under legal dispute for years.

DeSantis today thanked the Seminole Tribe and lauded the gaming compact for the good of all Florida residents.

“The final approval of this historic gaming compact is a big deal for the State of Florida. This mutually-beneficial agreement will grow our economy, expand tourism and recreation and provide billions in new revenue to benefit Floridians,” DeSantis said in a release.

Challenges to Florida online sports betting are still expected

Challenges to the gaming compact are still expected. West Flagler Associates, on behalf of Magic City Casino, and Bonita Springs Poker Room filed a lawsuit against the compact in early July.  The lawsuit contends the Florida online sports betting component of the document violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

DraftKing and FanDuel have also mounted their own response to the gaming compact. The sportsbook titans are behind a filed 2022 Florida ballot initiative to allow online sports betting throughout the sunshine state. If approved by state officials, it would allow voters the chance to decide the fate of statewide Florida online sports betting in the 2022 general election.

The ballot measure, if approved by voters, would circumvent the approved 30-year gaming compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe.