Florida Sports Betting: The Billion Dollar Question

Posted By Nicholaus Garcia on February 10, 2021 - Last Updated on February 19, 2021

When people talk about some of the great feuds and rivalries over the past several decades, a few instantly come to mind.

There’s Michael Jordan and the Detroit Pistons in the late ’80s. A feud that would ultimately lead to the ascension of Jordan as the greatest player of all time.

In the early 2000s, we had Tom Brady against Payton Manning. A rivalry that would eventually lead to the modern-day New England Patriots dynasty.

And don’t forget Hunter Thompson’s utter disdain for Richard Nixon in the early ’70s, which led to the creation of some of the best political journalism in history.

These are some of the greats. But they didn’t just happen overnight. Every great rivalry has to begin somewhere. This brings us to the Sunshine State, where every year, a different kind of rivalry takes shape. One surrounding political efforts to legalize online sports betting in Florida.

Yes, I’m talking about the continued quarrel between local politicians and The Seminole Tribe of Florida.

A new year and another attempt at Florida sports betting

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R) has tried a few times to get a sports betting bill passed. This year’s bill is SB 392, which would legalize sports betting and give regulatory control to the state lottery. But the past few years haven’t been kind to these efforts but not due to a lack of trying.

Florida is entangled in a complex gaming environment, which is one reason why it’s so difficult to pass any gaming bills.

“(Senator Jeff) Brandes really wants to get (sports betting) done. But the reality of the situation is, none of this is going to happen in a vacuum,” said Nick Iarossi, founder of Capital City Consulting in Tallahassee.

When Iarossi says “vacuum,” he means sports betting will not happen alone but rather as a component of a much bigger deal. And whatever deal is struck has to, among other things, include the Seminole Tribe.

“The politics are there; people want sports betting to happen,” Iarossi told PlayUSA in an interview. “But if you are going to give the (Seminole) tribe any exclusive rights to any gaming, they have to pay a premium.”

So now, the question becomes, what exactly is the Florida sports betting market worth? And will the Seminole Tribe be willing to pay such a hefty amount?

According to Iarossi, lawmakers believe that premium is worth upwards of $1 billion.

Debating the market value of Florida

Determining the market value in a new state is no easy task. It’s like baking a cake. If you get one measurement wrong, the entire thing can leave a sour taste in your mouth. Some of the factors experts must consider include tax rates, the number of operators, retail and mobile availability, and most importantly, who will regulate sports betting. But when you talk about Florida sports betting, that last factor is the most important.

When asked if the Florida sports betting market could be valued at $1 billion, Brady Benford, a consultant with Ballard Partners, agreed that it could.

“Depending on the regulatory framework and how it’s implemented, I think it could be,” Benford said in an email. “If multiple online operators, pari-mutuels, and professional sports facilities are given the opportunity to offer a sports betting product to the public, Florida could be a very big market.”

But research from the American Gaming Association (AGA) paints a different picture. Based on a 10% tax rate, a mature market of 3-5 years, sports betting only available at tribal casinos, the AGA estimates gaming revenue to be roughly $226 million. At a state level, this would translate to $22.6 million in gaming tax revenue.

These estimates do not factor in mobile sports betting.

As Benford stated, a billion-dollar market hinges on the possibility that sports betting is offered at multiple locations spread across the state. However, with the Seminole’s vice grip on gaming, it’s doubtful that such a thing would happen.

Representatives from the Seminole Tribe of Florida could not be reached for comment.

For now, when placing a price tag on Florida, it would be wise to assume that sports betting would be offered in a limited capacity.

“I think pari-mutuels can benefit from having sports betting. More outlets, more betting, more revenue to the state, but certainly the tribe would need to play a central role,” Iarossi said.

Assuming the Florida tax rate is high

As professionals, it’s never safe to assume. But in this case, should SB 392 become law, an additional piece of legislation would set the tax rate. That bill, SB 394, currently sets the sports betting tax rate at 15 percent.

Looking at another scenario from the AGA, this time with the following metrics:

  • Sports betting at tribal casinos (no mobile)
  • The market is 3-5 years old
  • 15% tax rate

Florida sportsbooks would only generate $191 million in gaming revenue, with the state collecting $28.8 million in taxes.

So again, we arrive at the question, would the Seminole Tribe be willing to pay a premium price to operate sports betting?

“The (Seminole) tribe right now is siphoning billions of dollars out of the state in revenue without paying anything to the state,” Iarossi said. “And I think that hinges upon how much the tribe is willing to pay the state for their right to have a monopoly on gaming.”

How we arrived at the current state of Florida sports betting

As eluded to, the efforts to expand gaming in Florida, sports betting included, have been reoccurring yearly.

The latest roadblock came three years ago with the passage of Amendment 3, which prohibits state lawmakers from introducing any new forms of casino gaming without first having voter approval. However, experts — Iarossi and Benford included — have said there is a debate on whether or not sports betting is considered a new form of gaming and therefore exempt from a referendum.

“It’s been argued that sports betting is not traditional casino gaming (slots, card games, roulette, craps, etc.) and wouldn’t be subject to a referendum,” Benford said.

Whether or not sports betting is considered a traditional casino game is one of many issues standing in the way of a potential compact.

“Tribe needs to drop their opposition to designated poker player games (DPPG) at the pari-mutuels,” Iarossi said. “Every year, the governor and speaker have said they are not interested in harming existing pari-mutuels. But the tribe insists on the state banning DPPG and have used that as a reason not to pay the state.”

What could be next

The question of if the Florida sports betting market is worth a billion dollars can only be answered by one entity: the Seminole Tribe. It’s highly unlikely they will answer it anytime soon.

But perhaps all these issues will become the catalysts needed to launch sports betting in the Sunshine State.

Remember, without Jordan’s need to beat the Pistons; we would have never gotten the Chicago Bull’s dynasty. Without Brady’s drive to be the best, we would have never gotten the Patriots Dynasty. And without Nixon coveting absolute power, Thompson would have never had anything to write about.

Maybe years from now, things will be different. Maybe this yearly quarrel will ultimately lead to the creation of Florida sports betting. Or, by the looks of things, the state will do this same dance in another year.

Photo by Dreamstime
Nicholaus Garcia Avatar
Written by
Nicholaus Garcia

Nick has had stints in Chicago and Washington, D.C., writing about politics, financial markets, and sports betting. He graduated from Texas Tech University and completed his master's degree in journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

View all posts by Nicholaus Garcia
Privacy Policy