What's next for Florida sports betting after gaming compact dismissal?
Last night a U.S. District Court Judge likely put a stake through the heart of Florida online sports betting until at least 2023.
Judge Dabney L. Friedrich released an opinion late Monday evening that effectively threw out the entire 30-year Florida gaming compact after determining it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Her published opinion put an end to legalized Florida in-person and online sports betting and a planned gaming expansion for Seminole Tribe-owned casinos in the state.
But this is not necessarily the end of the journey for Florida sports betting or Florida gaming. The state and the Department of Justice have several options they can explore, and Judge Friedrich wrote in her opinion that there are still several avenues to bring sports betting to the Sunshine State.
So what are the next steps and remaining options for Florida sports betting?
Potential federal court appeal
A likely course of action from the Department of Justice is to request an appeal of Friedrich’s opinion and ask for a stay of her decision. An appeal would send the case to a U.S. Court of Appeals.
A petitioner can ask for an appeal of a decision for any variety of reasons:
“The reasons for an appeal vary. However, a common reason is that the dissatisfied side claims that the trial was conducted unfairly or that the trial judge applied the wrong law, or applied the law incorrectly. The dissatisfied side may also claim that the law the trial court applied violates the U.S. Constitution or a state constitution,” according to the U.S. Court of Appeals website.
An appeals case is lengthy and Florida sports betting, in person or online, would likely be unable to operate as the appeal is heard. Most appeals are final and are the last effort of the petitioner to have the initial decision overturned.
Citizen’s voting initiative is a possibility
Friedrich also specifically mentioned a “citizen’s initiative” as an avenue for the legalization of sports betting in Florida in her opinion.
“This decision does not foreclose other avenues for authorizing online sports betting in Florida. The State and the Tribe may agree to a new compact, with the Secretary’s approval, that allows online gaming solely on Indian lands. Alternatively, Florida citizens may authorize such betting across their State through a citizens’ initiative,” she wrote.
One such citizen’s initiative currently exists. Florida Education Champions is collecting verified signatures to place a voter initiative on the November 2022 general election ballot. The ballot initiative would open up Florida to all online sportsbook operators, instead of just the Seminole Tribe-owned Hard Rock brand.
The initiative needs 891,598 verified signature to appear on the 2022 ballot. According to the Florida Division of Elections, the initiative currently has 116,187 verified signatures.
DraftKings and FanDuel are behind the filed 2022 Florida ballot initiative to allow online sports betting throughout the sunshine state.
If approved, the initiative would authorize sports and event betting under Florida law at professional sports venues and pari-mutuel facilities. Additionally, it would approve online sports betting throughout the state for qualified sportsbooks and Native American tribes with a Florida gaming compact. The Florida legislature will have the ability to tax betting revenues, and all taxes will supplement a state educational trust fund, according to Florida Education Champions.
Christina Johnson, spokesperson for Florida Education Champions, had this to say after the compact was dismissed:
“Our effort was always mutually exclusive to the compact. Florida Education Champions’ focus remains in securing the nearly 900,000 valid petitions to make the November 2022 ballot. Now is the time for all entities to come together so we may provide a competitive legal sports betting market for Floridians, while generating the expected hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues for the Florida Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.”
A new gaming compact or state legislation?
Friedrich said the state could authorize a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, but would be unable to include online sports betting off of tribal lands. Several other states have effectively included online sports betting in gaming compacts with Native American tribes, including Arizona and Michigan, but Florida will have a more difficult challenge ahead if it decides to go that route.
Arizona and Michigan gaming compacts approved sports betting for their state tribes. These compacts allowed for in-person sports betting to take place at tribal casinos, which is acceptable under IGRA. What differentiates the two states from Florida is the fact that the legislatures approved state laws to allow the tribes to conduct online sports betting off tribal land. By allowing online sports betting through state law, the gaming compacts remain in good standing with IGRA. This opens up the tribes to state and federal taxation for their online sports betting revenues.
Florida could use this same strategy for its own gaming compact, but this option would run afoul of a 2018 voter-approved constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 3, that requires any new casino gambling laws to be approved by voters.
The state could call for a vote, but it likely wouldn’t happen until the November 2022 general election.
The same can be said for any potential House or Senate legislation to approve sports betting. The state can go this route, but due to Amendment 3, it would likely have to be approved by Florida voters.