Joe Henderson: Cover your ears, the sports betting debate is about to begin - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Cover your ears, the sports betting debate is about to begin

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that it’s legal for Congress or individual states to allow gambling on college and pro sports if they want to.

Yikes.

It might be a good idea to cover your ears now because the noise on both sides of this issue is sure to reach brain-splitting levels. This battle for or against making this legal in Florida might be unlike anything the people of this state have ever seen, and that’s saying a lot.

But here’s a little something to consider while Floridians work this out: Sports wagering in our state will continue whether it’s legal or not.

It always has.

It always will.

Do lawmakers who stand in front of a microphone and rail about the evils of gambling really believe that puts even a BB-sized dent in the innate desire of some humans to take the Bucs and 6 ½ points against the Patriots?

And you know those office fantasy leagues? Money is changing hands, people. The next time you get stuck in an elevator with a guy who wants to tell you how his fantasy baseball team is doing, remember, he probably has a wad of cash riding on the outcome.

All those March Madness pools?

Um, in the largest percentage of them the winner gets more than bragging rights.

The amount of money already wagered on sports is staggering, and most of it is done illegally. Forbes estimated that $93 billion — with a B — was ILLEGALLY wagered on college and pro football in 2015.

Fox Business reported that nearly $5 billion — with a B — was wagered on the Super Bowl this year. Of that, an estimated 97 percent was done ILLEGALLY.

Well, it’s a new dawn, maybe.

Against that backdrop is a little thing called Amendment 3 that will in front of voters in November. It basically says that it passes, any future expansion of gambling would have to be approved by voter referendum. That almost assuredly will include sports wagering.

Here’s where the noise will be the loudest.

One side will be screaming “VOTE NO” and defeat the measure so pro-gambling interests can get busy lining up support in Tallahassee for the next Session to pass a sports-betting bill. My guess is that hotel owners will be particularly receptive to this argument.

The other side will be screaming “VOTE YES!” Betting on sports BAD. Gambling in general BAD!

If that side wins the argument, the savvy or determined sports bettor here will grumble and do what they’ve always done — call their bookie. And the state gets zero.

The expansion of casino gambling in Florida has been a contentious issue for years that the Legislature doesn’t seem to be able to solve and probably never will. For one thing, Disney’s official tsk-tsk on the expansion of casinos has carried considerable sway.

This seems different though.

This isn’t about building more casinos, at least not yet. This is something the state could strictly control at what likely would be a considerable profit.

A lot of current wagering is done online at offshore sites. The state could put those cats out of business in a hurry and reap a considerable profit while doing so.

Pro sports leagues have been preparing for this day for a long time. While the official stance remains that they’re not big fans of wagering on their games, they know what a financial bonanza this could be.

It’s not just owners, either. Unions in the four major sports already are clamoring already for players to get their share of the money.

A statement from the National Football League summed it up nicely:

“We intend to call on Congress again, this time to enact a core regulatory framework for legalized sports betting. We also will work closely with our clubs to ensure that any state efforts that move forward in the meantime protect our fans and the integrity of our game.”

Translation: We don’t really like this idea, but if it’s happening then we’re damn sure going to get our cut.

That’s one of only two sure things in all of this.

The other is that no matter what happens, sports wagering will continue in Florida.

You can bet on it.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.
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