What happens next to Florida's gaming compact and sports betting?
Florida legislators passed sweeping gaming legislation this week as the House and Senate approved the comprehensive Seminole Tribe gaming compact that will bring billions in revenue and legalize sports gambling in the state.
But what’s next for the 30-year gaming compact will bring an estimated $6 billion to the Sunshine State? Where does it go now? The gaming compact will likely face an uphill battle on the federal and state level, with legal challenges to be expected.
Federal challenges for the gaming compact
The gaming compact will now be sent to the federal government for review by the Office of Indian Gaming and approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Questions remain for several details in the compact in accordance with Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), namely the potential legality of online sports betting with servers housed on tribal land. The U.S. Department of the Interior will have 45-days to review the compact and either approve, deny or take no action on the document.
The department will either approve, deny or take no action on the gaming compact.
Throughout the special session on gaming several representatives noted there is a chance the gaming compact may not fully pass the federal review. Indian gaming law expert George Skibine said in his testimony that the Department of the Interior will have to look at the compact and determine if the servers being on Indian land means online bets placed anywhere in Florida would be deemed to be placed on Indian land.
“It will be a difficult decision for the department,” he said.
Skibine did note that an oft cited U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against online betting may not hold the same weight in Florida. The Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a San Diego online casino that argued a bettor’s location did not matter as long as the location of the server receiving the bet was on Indian land. Skibine said Florida is under the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Seminole Gaming CEO and Hard Rock International chairman Jim Allen mentioned several times in the special session that he believes the Office of Indian Gaming and the U.S. Department of the Interior would uphold the compact’s views on online sports betting. He did say there could be potentially scenario where online sports betting was stricken from the compact after being denied by the federal government and only in-person sports betting would be allowed, but it would be detrimental to sports betting profits as the majority is historically derived from online sports betting.
He said the Seminole Tribe will still make revenue payments from other casino games if FL online sports betting is deemed illegal and must be removed from the compact.
State challenges for Florida sports betting
No Casinos, a Florida-based advocacy group, had a heavy presence at the special gaming session with President John Sowinski arguing that Florida voters should have the opportunity to vote on the compact, as the group believes the compact is an expansion of gambling.
“This fight is just beginning. We are committed to ensuring that the will of the people, who voted by a remarkable 72% landslide to give Florida voters the exclusive right to authorize casino gambling in our state, will be respected,” Sowinski said in a press release from the organization.
The advocacy group holds up a voter approved 2018 constitutional amendment (Amendment 3) that requires any new casino gambling laws to be approved by voters. Supporters of the compact argue that “sports betting” is not mentioned in the constitutional amendment and was not a common game offered in the 2018 amendment, so it should not be included moving forward.
This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution.
If a vote was necessary it likely wouldn’t take place until 2022, which would mean sports betting wouldn’t be legalized until 2023 at the earliest if voters upheld the gaming compact.