Florida senator: online sports betting is only a matter of when, not if
Senator Jeff Brandes (R-26), a driving force behind online sports betting in Florida, shared hope for the legalization of gaming in the state, but cautioned it may take a new path away from the Seminole Tribe to become law.
“It’s not a question of if, but a question of when and how for the state,” Brandes told Saturday Down South. “It will ultimately happen, dozens of states have now moved to legalize online sports betting, but Florida’s online sports betting is caught up in a larger discussion with the Seminole Tribe. The Seminole Tribe essentially wants exclusive rights to housing the servers for sports betting.”
State gamblers could reasonably expect to participate in Florida online sports betting within two years, Brandes said. For that to happen, though, a gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe must be agreed upon or an alternate route more beneficial for the state must be explored.
“I believe giving everything to the tribe would be a mistake for the state and we should look at a variety of different vendors for different types of gaming,” he said.
An alternate path for Florida online sports betting
The most likely route for legalized online sports betting in the state would be an agreement on a new gaming compact, Brandes noted, but that is not an end all be all option. Earlier this year, he proposed legislation that would have authorized Florida’s Department of the Lottery to be the purveyor of online sports betting in the state.
Brandes’ bill, SB 392, circumvented Seminole Tribe participation in the online sports betting program by running sports betting purely through the state’s lottery. A related bill proposed by Brandes, SB 396, set an online sports betting license at $100,000, renewal fees at $100,000 and a 15% tax on sports betting revenue in the state.
Revenues generated from the bill would have bolstered education in the state, but Brandes’ bill ultimately failed to pass by Florida lawmakers.
“My concept was sidelined by the overall talks for a larger gaming compact. The tribe really wants online casinos and we have all kinds of other issues with the parimutuels. It gets caught up in the circular firing squad that is gaming in Florida,” he explained.
Florida’s complicated betting history
The discussion of legalized sports betting has been ongoing for years between the state and the Seminole Tribe. A recent gaming compact that would have brought Seminole Tribe controlled sports betting to Florida and a new casino to Miami Beach. It would have also brought millions of dollars in annual payments to the state from the tribe, was rejected earlier this month by the tribe, leaving the Sunshine State at an impasse moving forward.
The rejected compact included a deal for the Seminole Tribe to control sports betting in the state through a hub and spokes system, not a full-blown online sports betting system. Sports bets would be received and processed through servers located at tribal casinos, allowing gamblers to place bets at casinos or professional sports events, race tracks or poker rooms.
Professional sports franchises would have also had the opportunity to open in-facility sportsbooks for gamblers.
The agreement called for professional sport franchises and parimutuels to receive a cut of the sports betting revenue driven through these bets. However, an agreement on the revenue cut was not reached and the compact was denied.
Florida’s online sports betting future
Both state and tribe officials have confirmed negotiations are still ongoing for a new compact. However, time may be running out on negotiations as Florida’s 2021 legislative session is set to conclude on April 30.
These discussions have been taking place for several years. A new compact has come close in the last two, but has ultimately not been landed by negotiators. The idea of running an online sports betting program through the lottery has merit for Florida, Brandes said, and is a strategy that has been adopted by many states.
“If we can run online sports betting through the lottery I have no problem with the tribe getting an online casino. I can go online and play casino games on overseas sites right now. There’s nothing in Florida that will stop you from doing that.”