The Seminole Tribe Holds the Key to Florida Sports Betting Legalization

Florida is one of the states that is yet to legalize sports betting, having made several unsuccessful legislative attempts so far. Witnessing how other states have cashed in on sports books may turn out to be the lure the state cannot refuse, especially during these times when its tax receipt from gambling is expected to collapse due to the casino closures.

The Lure of Tax Money

According to some estimates, if sports betting, both retail and mobile, is allowed in Florida, the state could receive up to $500 million during the first year of operation, the amount jumping up to $700 million for each subsequent year. But state legislators have some hurdles to remove along the way if they want to get a hold of the sports betting tax money.

The first block is the Seminole Tribe, the major player in the state gambling industry that has the exclusivity rights of any form of gambling from slots, roulette, blackjack, or any other casino game. The tribe generates around $2.5 billion annually, nearly 5 times more than the share of non-tribal gaming, represented by a handful of venues that are offering horseracing and slot gaming. Tax receipts out of that aggregate revenue are significant, allowing residents in Florida to avoid paying state taxes.

The Tribe Suspended the State Agreement

The Seminole Tribe, however, has been opposing the legislation of sports betting in the state as it neither has the infrastructure nor the capability to open sports books, and if these were allowed to happen in Florida, the tribe will lose its exclusivity grip on gambling, something the Seminole is not keep to let happen. Yet, the tribe may not be the decisive factor this year, as earlier it decided to suspend its long-lasting agreement with the state, withdrawing its estimated $350 million payment per year.

But even in this case and if they manage to pass a bill through the state legislature, legislators face one more obstacle before their bill can turn into law, the referendum vote, as in November 2018, they approved a measure, Amendment 3, which forces any gambling expansion to be decided by voters.

The earliest chance for any public vote in 2020 would be in November, a delay that leaves the state behind by another six months, witnessing its mobile sports gambling revenue outflowing to neighbouring states, a luxury Florida may not allow to have, as the drop in gaming revenues from the closed casinos in the state is expected to burn a hole in the government budget.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Putting the bill to a state-wide referendum, hoping the residents of Florida realize the benefits of sports betting outweigh its trade-offs creates an uncertainty state legislators are unwilling to deal with, and the only way to avoid the public vote is the Seminole Tribe.

Inserting sports betting as part of the compact terms with the tribe will eliminate the uncertainty regarding the mood of Florida residents related to the expansion of gambling forms in the state. Finding that agreement with the Seminole Tribe may require more concessions than the state is willing to give, though.

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