Joe Henderson: A long legal battle is ahead for Florida’s Gaming Compact
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gambling court
Opponents say the Compact expands gambling and violates a 2018 constitutional amendment.

Of course, the deal that Florida lawmakers approved Wednesday for a new Gaming Compact that introduces legal sports wagering in the state will soon head to court.

We all know that. It’s just a question of when. Passing the bill just sounded the starting gun on what could be a long and bitter legal battle, with billions of dollars hanging in the balance.

After Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the bill — which he will — what’s the over-under on how long it will take opponents to file their lawsuits to derail the plan?

Is five minutes too quick? Sixty minutes too long?

Either way, it could take years for this to wind through the legal machinery, and it will be a fascinating argument.

Opponents will say, “Hey, that Amendment 3 to the state constitution in 2018 says that we, the people, get the final say on gambling expansion.”

And yes, the opponents are correct. That’s exactly what the amendment says. Previously, the Legislature had sole authority to expand gambling.

However, supporters say, “No, we’re not expanding gambling in our fair state. Why that would be wrong!”

Well, yeah, except the Compact allows previously forbidden mobile sports wagering, controlled by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. If it looks, sounds, and smells like an expansion, well, you know.

But hey, I’m no lawyer, and in times like this, those folks earn their billable hours.


The stakes are enormous. The Tribe gets to control sports wagering, and the state gets at least $2 billion over the first five years. The Tribe will likely make a lot more than that, but that’s an argument for another day.

Proponents knew from the start that judges would decide whether this expansion/not expansion is legal. Hence, the loophole argument that this is just taking modern technology to the next level.

Haley Brown of Florida Politics reported that the argument relied on the “hub and spoke” model.

The Tribe is the hub, and pari-mutuels are the spokes.

“Servers sitting on the Tribe’s reservation would process sports bets placed on mobile phones or at pari-mutuel facilities, even if the person using the mobile phone is not located on tribal grounds,” she wrote.

This is a good time to mention that the Tribe spent $24.35 million to help pass the 2018 amendment. It received 71% of the vote.

Oops. That’s the potential stick in the spokes.

A key part of this deal won’t get much notice, but it should. It calls for creating a state gaming commission with, and this could be big, criminal justice powers over pari-mutuels.

The five-member commission must include an experienced lawyer, accountant, and law enforcement member. It would replace the Department of Business and Professional Regulation as the overlord of pari-mutuel gambling in Florida.

The big headline, though, is the introduction of legal sports wagering. I emphasize “legal” because clandestine sports betting has gone on in plain sight for a long, long time. Those who want to pick the Tampa Bay Bucs minus-3 ½ points against whoever they’re playing that week will find a way, whether the law allows it or not.

And, come on now, tell me you haven’t filled out a March Madness bracket, even for minimal stakes.

Gambling addiction is serious and can wreck a home, just like alcohol or drug abuse. Keeping laws against legal wagering won’t stop that, though. It’s the modern-day Prohibition, and we know how well that worked — or rather, didn’t work.

None of those are legal arguments, though, and that’s why the courts will decide this based on the law. That law seems pretty clear, too.

When it comes to the Legislature though, that doesn’t always matter.

Joe Henderson

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.

One comment

  • Tom

    May 22, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    I don’t have a dog in this race because I don’t gamble, don’t care if others do, don’t know if that’s crass of me. Here’s what I do know. Just before the Florida Lottery was allowed in this state, back in the late eighties, one of its powerful backers–I believe it was Ralph Turlington–made a last minute reversal after he discovered that the promised money to “enhance education” from the Lottery would in fact replace existing funds the legislature intended to take away. It was too late, and the Lottery has been with us since. No “enhancement” ever occurred, and who knows where the previous funding was diverted. Point is, don’t trust anything they’re saying in Florida Legislature about all the wonderful things they will do for Floridians with this new gambling golden egg. Trust only that the wonderful things they will do with the money will be wonderful for them.

Comments are closed.


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