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Erik Gibbs May 14, 2021 3 min read
Horse Racing in Florida Could Be on Its Last Legs
As much as some Florida lawmakers, and many residents, would like to see legalized sports gambling come to the Sunshine State, the path toward acceptance is full of potholes and pitfalls. Some states have been able to quickly introduce legal sports gambling frameworks; others have taken more time than they probably needed. Florida now sits somewhat in limbo, looking at a complex gaming agreement that makes lawmakers and the Seminole Tribe of Florida happy, but which has started to unravel at the seams. It will now take a special legislative session to figure out how to move forward and, after the dust settles, it’s possible that horse racing and jai alai will no longer be part of Florida’s gaming ecosystem.
Florida Horse Racing, Jai-Alai Have a Dim Future
There has been a lot of time spent on shaping a new Florida gaming market this year, with bills discussing pari-mutuels and a new gaming compact being worked out with the Seminole Tribe. However, that latter compact has become contentious and is no longer on an easy road to acceptance. Governor Ron DeSantis was able to work out a deal with the tribe to facilitate gaming expansion in the state, but lawmakers have decided to take a closer look at the agreement following a certain amount of backlash.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate are willing to spend some extra time this year to address the dilemma, calling a special session that will begin on Monday. Among the topics to be discussed is a bill that would give the state’s pari-mutuel gambling properties the right to stop holding live horse racing events, except thoroughbred races, and jai alai matches, without risking their gaming licenses. Currently, the properties are tied to offering horse racing and jai alai only in conjunction with the operation of casino games, and the bill eliminates that requirement.
Should the legislation be approved, horse racing and jai alai, which don’t generate substantial revenue, would likely be dropped by the properties, receiving the same fate as greyhound races. Senator Ray Rodrigues said last month that the facilities are just “going through the motions” with these activities and that “most people” don’t believe they represent a “competitive contest.” In contrast, the facilities would be able to focus on cardroom gaming, increasing their revenue possibilities.
Florida Sports Gambling in Trouble, As Well
What is likely even bigger, and more troublesome, news for Florida is the future of sports gambling. According to reports, this upcoming special session will also have an item on the agenda that would severely restrict sports gambling if approved. Online sports wagers would be authorized, but only if placed while the gambler was on tribal land. It would also require gamblers to be on the tribal property to deposit or withdraw funds. Online sports gambling has been shown to be more lucrative than the land-based segment, but these restrictions diminish Florida’s chances of enjoying the multibillion-dollar market that analysts have predicted.
The Senate is expected to quickly move through the session and approve the new legislative changes, possibly voting on everything by Tuesday of next week. The House will then take over and, according to Senator Travis Hutson, could vote on the changes on Wednesday. This doesn’t leave much time for feedback on Florida’s new proposed gaming framework.