Florida is a two-touchdown underdog in sports betting battle

sports betting
If online sports wagering stays illegal in the state, gamblers will just go back to their old ways of placing bets and the state will miss out on potentially $6 billion.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich to block the controversial online sports betting provision in the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s gambling deal was not a surprise. The Compact negotiated between the Tribe and Gov. Ron DeSantis would, on first blush, appear to violate the state constitution.

That doesn’t mean the decision is good for Florida, however.

Whether online sports betting is legal here or not, residents will still find ways to place their bets. They’ll use illegal offshore accounts, local bookies or make wagers with friends. They might use fantasy sites like DraftKings and FanDuel. It’s a little murky whether the state allows that, but it goes on anyway.

Either way, Florida gets short-changed in the deal because the state won’t get its cut of a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

Getting around that reality, however, is problematic. In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 3, which gave Floridians the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida” through a citizen-initiated, statewide referendum.

Although the amendment didn’t specifically address sports betting, it appears lumped in with the casinos. That’s where the recent gaming compact ran into trouble.

The deal gave the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to online sports wagering, while the state got $6 billion in casino revenue.

To get around Amendment 3, the Tribe said the actual wagers from its online sports app would flow through servers located on tribal land. Voila! It wouldn’t expand casino gambling because bets on the Tribe’s property are already legal.

Nice try.

Friedrich said that provision violated federal Indian gaming law that requires gamblers to place their bets on tribal land, so here we are.

To the argument that it was legal because of the servers’ location, Friedrich wrote, “this Court cannot accept that fiction.”

Yeah, there is that pesky thing called the law. Friedrich’s job is to follow that, even if it means driving sports wagering back underground. It is so widespread that it’s impractical to expect law enforcement to do anything about it.

Like it or not, casinos are here to stay. I live near the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa, and the parking lot is always full whenever I drive by. People are going to gamble, period.

Amendment 3 wasn’t trying to curb your enthusiasm for legal wagering if that’s your thing. It just acknowledged a reality that there’s big money in casinos, and profiteers would soon have them popping up like love bugs all over Florida.

And the last time I checked, citizens do have the final say. That is, unless DeSantis and the Tribe can figure a way around that.

I make the state a two-touchdown underdog.

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.


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