What’s the Scoop on Sports Betting Legalization in Florida?

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Several legislators introduced three bills to legalize online sports betting in Florida during the legislative body’s spring session. What’s the scoop on their progress?

Sports Betting Legalization: From Little Hope to a Glimmer

Back in April 2020, USA Today’s Joe Williams held out little hope for sports betting legalization in Florida, lamenting, “Sports betting does not sound close to becoming a reality anytime soon, as there are a number of factors working against it.” Although betting at horse racing tracks was legal there, as well as the Florida Lottery and at a few land-based casinos owned by the Seminole Tribe, a Native American group, the future didn’t look bright for legalized sports betting overall.

Then came the full brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. Although current Florida governor Ron DeSantis was against opening the state up to more gambling options, his was one of the few states where virus-related restrictions were not so strict as the others.

Add to that Florida’s year-round sunshine, sandy beaches, and its broad appeal to both domestic and international tourists and you have an ideal setting to contend for sports betting legalization. Enter Florida legislators Chip LaMarca and Anika Omphroy, both members of the state’s House of Representatives, along with their Senate colleague, Jeff Brandes. Sensing an opening, the trio introduced several bills that would bring Florida in line with the other 20 US states who have legalized sports gambling.

Sports Gambling Legalization’s Progress So Far

In late February, in partnership with Senator Joe Gruters, Brandes introduced Senate Bill (SB) 392, which would permit people 21 and over to wager on practically any sporting event except for those involving youth. In the House, LaMarca introduced House Bill (HB) 1317, which mirrored most of the features from Brandes’ sports betting legalization bill.

Omphroy joined with LaMarca to introduce HB 1319, which set a tax rate for revenues from sports betting, while in the Senate, Brandes introduced the bill’s Senate version, SB 394. As of March 5, 2021, the bills’ fate is uncertain. Referred to committee after committee, the bills have progressed to land in the following bodies:

  • HB 1317: Currently in the Regulatory Reform Subcommittee
  • HB 1319: Currently in the Regulatory Reform Subcommittee
  • SB 392: Currently introduced in the Senate Journal (SJ) 64
  • SB 394: Currently introduced in the Senate Journal (SJ) 64

The Outlook for the Future of Legalized Sports Gambling in Florida

The ultimate success of these bills might rest on Florida’s pandemic-induced budget deficit of nearly $2.5 billion. With Governor DeSantis in the top tier of possible 2024 Republican Presidential candidates, he might be more likely to consider signing them into law so that his economic record would stand out against the rest of the field – and carry the day in the US general election.

As Legal Sports Report’s John Holden points out, the most likely route toward these bills’ success lies through the Seminole Tribe. With its firm grasp on the state’s few legal betting options and its value as a voting bloc, its imprimatur is a near necessity for the bills to pass. As for online gambling on sports, it, too, would need the tribe’s stamp of approval to pass muster.

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