TAMPA – Orlando Martinez sat alone in the sun at a table in the Sparkman Wharf entertainment district on Wednesday. It was a little early for a drink, even with the beer garden just behind him, a little early for lunch, even though the pizza and taco vendors were rustling into activity as the early arrivals for the nearby NFL Super Bowl Experience shuffled through.
Flipping through his phone, resplendent in red from hatted head to sneakered feet and a Bucs logo on his dutifully worn mask, the Tampa Bay season ticket-holder was still working his sources in trying to attend the first Super Bowl featuring the hometown team. And, naturally, he wants to take advantage of Super Bowl betting. But within the state, Florida sports betting hasn’t been legalized.
Martinez says would very much like to legally bet on the game. Right here in Sparkman Wharf, right there on the phone he’d laid onto his table. But he knows that’s less likely right now than a middle-aged quarterback coming town and leading his team to a championship.
“It can’t get here soon enough,” he said of legal sports betting. “It’s a voluntary tax. What’s the big deal? Why give your money to Bovada and they take it overseas? Why not just make it legal here they they can tax it and be done with it.”
Valid question. And a complicated one.
Why doesn’t Florida have legal sports betting?
Martinez is versed in the politics on the ground of his home, where the Seminole Tribe of Florida – which owns the Hard Rock Hotel and resort empire – wields a virtual monopoly on gaming through its Compact. The relationship between Tribe and the government has been contentious, with the Seminoles withholding their negotiated $350 million yearly revenue-share payments to the state beginning in May of 2019 after they contended that racetracks and other pari-mutuel outlets were being allowed to impinge on their exclusivity over banked games like blackjack. Florida legislators subsequently wrote that figure out the budget. Impasse.
Martinez has already chosen a side.
“They’re not the best community partners by a stretch,” he said of the Seminoles, “so legalize gambling, designate a few areas where you can do it. We’re not hurting that much, but I know there’s a whole lot of cities in the country right now that are debating it to get out of the hole that they’re in.”
Disparate interests in Florida, including pari-mutuel and racetrack outlets, make the state as complicated a brew as it is coveted as a sports betting market of 21.48 million residents. In 2018, the Seminoles formed a mutually beneficial but bizarre relationship with the Walt Disney Corp. to fund the successful public relations campaign behind a successful state amendment that made expanding gaming in the state more difficult.
Though sports betting bills are introduced yearly, again in 2021 by State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R), Florida’s brief 60-day legislative session and diverse political and demographic constituencies make deal-making difficult. And any resolution would still require an amendment of the Compact, according to most legal observers.
Attorney and gaming industry observer Daniel Wallach said at the Gaming Americas Q1 Meetup last week that he expected no movement in Florida this year, even as other populous states once also considered unattainable – like Texas and Georgia – show legislative promise.
“The stakeholders are not on board. You can’t enact a sports wagering law in the State of Florida without the acquiescence of the Seminole Tribe of Florida because they’ve been paying, historically, $300 million annually to the state as a revenue share under the terms of the 2010 compact,” Wallach said. “That agreement has been breached by the state and the Tribe ceased making those payments. So any road to sports betting in the State of Florida has to begin and end with trying to restore those revenue sharing payments.
“I don’t know how you pass a sports betting bill that doesn’t give the Tribe control over pretty much the whole thing, and the state’s pari mutuel industry – which is also a very powerful force in Florida – is not going to go along with that. So you’re going to have to come up with a way to figure out a revenue system for sports betting to at least match what the Tribe had historically been paying.”
A PlayUSA analysis projects that more than $500 million will be wagered legally on the Super Bowl this year.
Super Bowl fans are betting on the game, one way or another
More than half the fans PlayUSA interviewed as they strolled downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk claimed to have some sort of bet on either the result of the Super Bowl or on the Chiefs or Bucs through a future wager. Many of them smiled and preferred not to offer the exact outlet. Some claimed to have made preseason trips to Las Vegas. Sports betting is not legal in Missouri, but is in bordering Arkansas – in person – and online in Illinois, Iowa and Tennessee.
Chiefs fan David Horrocks had very specific gambling requests for Sunday. A Kansas City win would pay off the Smithville, Mo., resident’s $100 future wager at 5-1 from Harrah’s in Las Vegas, giving him consecutive seasons of claiming the same payout with a Lombardi Trophy. He was also in the market for a particular final score.
“We need 35-17, Chiefs,” he smiled, unapologetically. “We’ve got $100 in the pot, squares. Who knows. We’ve been pretty lucky here.”
Just up the river at the convention center, which also serves as the media hub, two Kansas City fans looking to replace their expiring Miller Lites called “Go Chiefs!” as Horrocks and his wife walked out onto a water taxi gangway.
Doug Bailey, of Kansas City, Kansas, said it shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many of his compatriots had money on the game.
“You got to,” he said. “KC fans are big gamblers.”
His friend and fellow Kansas City, Kan., resident, Andrew Norris, already had his money down through a non-domestic outlet and was extremely confident of a Chiefs cover after their 27-24 victory in Tampa Bay on Nov. 29
“I’ve got the Chiefs covering,” he said of his non-domestic wager. “As far as the over-under, I don’t know too much about that or where that’s going to come in, but I got the line as soon as they posted.”
And so are a lot of Super Bowl tourists. One way or another.