Legal, state-regulated sports betting is spreading rapidly from coast to coast across the US. In Florida, State Sen. Jeff Brandes has introduced three bills that would bring legal sports betting to the Sunshine State.
If all goes well, the bills will pass, and by the end of 2020, legal sports betting in Florida could become a reality for retail and online.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s very unlikely to happen this year. The stumbling blocks are just too high. The state is in a legal dispute with the Seminole Indian Tribe, which claims it has the rights to almost all casino gambling in Florida (with the Miccosukee Tribe), and last November, Florida voters approved constitutional Amendment 3, which stated:
“This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/tribal compacts.”
What this means for sports betting is still not clear. We’ll take a look at the political and legislative background, then provide a comprehensive guide to what legal sports betting in Florida will look like whenever it finally arrives.
The possibility of legal, state-regulated sports betting in Florida arises from a US Supreme Court decision back in May 2018. The court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, known as PASPA, on the grounds that it contravened states’ rights under the 10th Amendment.
PASPA acted to prevent states from introducing their own sports betting regulations. As soon as it was overturned, states rushed to get legal sports betting on their books. First to launch was New Jersey, which brought the appeal to the Supreme Court. Since then, more than a dozen other states have legalized sports betting.
Florida is late to the party for idiosyncratic reasons. Most of 2019 was spent renegotiating the state compact with the Seminole Tribe.
State Sen. Wilton Simpson was in charge of negotiations, and he came back with a deal that would have guaranteed the state around $500 million a year in gambling tax revenues from the state compact.
Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected the deal, and the Seminoles decided that they would suspend all payments to the state until an outstanding issue over “banked card games” was resolved.
The instant halt in the flow of cash galvanized Florida politicians to act. Brandes knows full well that the Seminole Tribe is completely opposed to his bills, but he has submitted them anyway.
The state compact gives the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes certain rights over operating casinos. Other gambling games, such as the state lottery, remain the province of the state government. However, there is a gray area, and sports betting sits right in the middle of it.
Brandes’ bill would give the state lottery the right to contract with third parties to offer sports betting, and the lottery is exempt from the state compact and from the recent amendment to the constitution.
This is hotly disputed by the Seminole Tribe, and the reality is that the tribe’s position has enough support from legislators to make it unlikely that Brandes’ bills will pass the Legislature.
Amendment 3 poses a different set of problems. It’s not clear whether online sports betting counts as a “casino game” and if so, whether its introduction would require the approval of the voters in another statewide ballot.
Florida is in a bit of a mess when it comes to sports betting or indeed any other form of online gambling expansion.
However, history looks to be on the side of legal sports betting. Certainly, the Seminole Tribe is in favor of its introduction, at least in principle. Legislators are in favor of sports betting in principle, and the voters would probably support a sports betting amendment if it was necessary to get their position in a new ballot.
With all this agreement, Florida should get legal sports betting in the next couple of years. There are just a lot of little issues where compromise will be necessary before it all happens.
Realistically, we are looking at 2022 at the earliest before Florida sports fans will get to place bets on their favorite teams.
Not only does the Legislature have to pass the necessary laws, but there may need to be another ballot measure.
After this, the regulator will need to produce regulations and issue licenses to sports betting operators.
The sports betting operators will need to remodel casinos to create sports betting areas, and online technology will need to be tested and approved before mobile and online sports betting can launch.
2023 may be an even more realistic start date for Florida sports betting.
The Brandes bills propose that the state lottery should offer sports betting alongside additional licensees also authorized by the lottery. These may be able to offer live sports betting on existing licensed premises.
Online and mobile sports betting will also be available throughout the state, offered by some or all of the licensees.
There is no way sports betting will go through the political process successfully unless it is also included in the state compact with the Seminoles. Casino-based sports betting and online sports betting would, therefore, be available at or based in tribal casinos.
In practice, the lottery will likely allow all premises currently licensed for betting to apply for licenses to offer sports betting. This might include such prominent names as the Hialeah Park Race Track to obtain a license, but the Palm Beach Kennel Club might just give it a miss.
The major tribal casinos such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood, and its siblings like the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa, are highly likely to get into the action at the earliest opportunity.
The minimum age for gambling in Florida varies. It is 18 for pari-mutuel betting and poker and 21 for gaming machines.
Sports betting bills will more likely err on the side of caution and opt for 21 as the minimum age for both live and mobile sports betting.
If Florida follows the pattern of most states, live sports betting should be available before online sports betting is offered.
On the other hand, putting the lottery in charge could mean that online sports betting makes it to the market first — there is precedent for that in other states where the lottery controls sports betting.
Either way, sports betting at a casino or other physical location is not entirely dissimilar to sports betting online. The reality of the industry is that sports betting is now a highly technological endeavor, so the platform used for live and online sports betting is almost the same.
In a casino, the first thing to do is register with the house VIP player scheme. This will give you discounts on casino services such as hotel rooms and meals. Every dollar you spend betting will help qualify you for more casino rewards, so the short time necessary for filling out a form is well worth the effort.
After that, head to the dedicated sports betting area. In other states, casinos have spent a fortune updating their facilities to ensure that sports bettors have a quality experience. Trendy bars and banks of huge widescreen monitors enable sports betting in style, with current games broadcast and different bet options clearly displayed for patrons.
Once you have decided what bet to make, a quick trip to the teller is all that it takes to hand over your money and receive a betting slip in return. That’s the legal record of your bet, so don’t lose it!
Alternatively, you can make your way to a sports betting kiosk. These are becoming more popular in casinos, and offer an online way of placing your bets inside the casino. Not all bet types will be available at the kiosk, but the most popular will. Remember to insert your casino VIP card to get credited for any rewards you earn from your bets.
If you don’t want the full casino experience and would prefer to place your bets from home or while you are on the move, then you will need to set up an online sports betting account.
This is phenomenally easy. No surprise that sports betting operators want to make it as easy as possible for new customers to get into the action. You will have to wait and see which operators get the go-ahead in Florida and register with the ones of your choice.
There is a simple online form to fill in. You will need to provide your first name and last name, details of any promo code (check PlayUSA for the latest codes) and your email address.
State regulators and the banking laws mandate that you provide proof of your age, identity and address before you can bet on sports for real money, so you will need to provide this information either at sign-up or as part of an account verification process.
Once you have your account established, you can take advantage of any special bonus offers for new customers.
These are very valuable. Online sports betting operators spend a lot of money to get new customers, estimating that the lifetime value of a happy customer is worth a sizable up-front investment.
If you see new player offers with bonuses of up to $1,000 or more, don’t be surprised. There are terms and conditions attached that you should check out, but the offers are real — at least they are in the legal industry.
Beware of any offshore accounts; your money is not safe, and offers are not subject to the advertising standards in place in the US.
One offer to look out for is no deposit free bets. Some sites offer to give you a couple of low-stake free bets before you have even made a deposit. These offer a great way to try out a site in a crowded market.
A few states have included a minimum set of payment methods that sports betting operators must use in their legislation. There really is no need to legislate at this level of detail because the operators will offer as many methods of depositing as their customers need. It’s in their own interest to offer deposit methods that suit their customers.
The most common deposit methods in other states are:
Not all deposit methods can be used to make withdrawals. For example, you can’t withdraw to PayPal unless you have made a deposit using PayPal first. You can’t use PayNearMe for withdrawals, and sometimes you cannot withdraw back to your credit or debit card.
In the absence of a card-based withdrawal method, you can always withdraw directly back to your bank account using an e-check.
Withdrawals are extremely quick when you use a legal sports betting operator. Should you have experience at trying to withdraw money from an illegal offshore site, you will know that the process can be complex and take many weeks.
Fast and simple financial transactions are one of the major benefits offered by the legal sports betting sector. Plus you know your money is safe and you have legal redress in case anything goes wrong.
One other innovation that some online sports betting operators offer is based on the legal structure of US sports betting. Since many states force online operators to partner with land-based casinos, the two industries have taken advantage by combining online rewards programs with casino rewards programs.
The online rewards program might offer benefits at the operator’s partner casino, and, conversely, the land-based casino might offer extra promotions to encourage players to go online.
MGM is particularly adept at this with its M Life rewards scheme. In the early days of state legal online gaming, there were fears that online operators would reduce customer traffic at live casinos. In fact, the opposite has happened.
The live casino partners of online operators have seen an increase in customers and more importantly an increase in younger customers who are introduced to the casino through online offers.
The paucity of major live casino brands in Florida means that the only real game in town when it comes to live casinos is the Seminole Tribe and the Miccosukee Tribe. Since they have no experience in sports betting, they will inevitably develop a different approach that works for their position in Florida.
State-regulated sports betting is exactly that — state-regulated. Sports betting is not authorized by the federal government, so any state laws only apply within the borders of the state.
If you have an online sports betting account in Florida, you may only use it when you are physically within the state borders.
Modern geolocation technology enables sports betting operators to identify your location with great precision. If they were to allow you to place a bet outside the state, they would be breaking the law, and the regulator would impose stiff fines.
Similarly, if you have an account with an online operator in another state such as New Jersey, and the same brand offers sports betting in Florida, you cannot use the same account. You would have to open a new account in Florida.
The tax and fees proposed in Brandes’ bill are sensible. There is a $100,000 license fee and a 15% tax on sports betting revenues.
Those numbers hit the sweet spot where operators can afford to keep their prices low and their odds competitive. In states such as Pennsylvania, the sports betting tax is 36%, and there is a $10 million license fee. Even so, the odds are competitive since any weakness in pricing would motivate their customers to head for cheaper illegal offshore sites.
Of course, the final numbers will be subject to legislative debate, but so long as Florida does not stray too far from the prices of other states, odds should remain competitive and there should still be money available for attractive marketing promotions.
All the most popular US sports will be available, plus a whole string of sports and betting events that draw smaller audiences. The limitations on what sports can be offered and what competitions can be covered are based on the availability of reliable data.
The new entrants to the US market are online companies from Europe. These businesses have over 20 years of experience with online sports betting globally. As a result, they have established excellent data sources and are able to offer a huge variety of sports betting options.
The typical list of sports offered by operators includes:
Esports may or may not be authorized. They are growing in popularity, and some jurisdictions such as Nevada are creating regulations to allow bets on the most popular events.
College sports are usually allowed, but high school sports or any sports where there is a majority participation by minors are forbidden.
New Jersey is particularly creative and allowed betting on the Oscars two years ago. Florida is unlikely to be so adventurous.
One of the things you will notice if you are new to modern sports betting is how technology makes complex bets easy. The online apps and the in-casino sports betting platforms offer bet combinations that would take your local bookie hours to calculate using pen and paper.
Bets can be divided into those that are on single events and those where several bets are linked together.
Some of the most popular bet types on offer in Florida will be:
All the states that have legalized sports betting so far have allowed in-play bets. These are bets that are placed after a game has started. In New Jersey, in-play bets now account for almost 60% of all money wagered.
The casinos and online sites offer a list of in-play bets for each of the games they cover. The more popular sports offer more in-play betting opportunities, but almost all sports now offer some form of in-play betting.
A lot of in-play bets are of the prop bet variety. These bets are on events such as which player will score the next touchdown, or which team will score first in the second quarter of an NBA game.
However, they also include the standard money line bets on which team will win, so you can get the opportunity to change your mind as the game progresses.
Another advantage of modern sports betting technology is the option to cash out a bet before the result is known.
If you see a game going for you or going against you, you might decide that it’s better to get out of the bet early than wait for the match to finish. This way you can cut your losses or lock in a proportion of your winnings before some miracle home run or Hail Mary pass can ruin your day.
The option is offered by all the major sports betting operators, and of course they charge a percentage for the service.
The introduction of state-regulated sports betting has shaken up the corporate landscape of sports betting companies not just in the US, but globally. The last two years have provided a constant flow of mergers and acquisitions as companies scale up and combine to take advantage of the new market.
Nevertheless, we can already see some of the big brands emerging as market leaders in the states where sports betting is legal.
Whether they get to enter the Florida market is a different matter. Florida, Texas, New York and California are the big sports betting markets in the US, and so far none of them have online sports betting. Fully 80% of all sports betting revenues come from online wagers, so this part of the market is critical to the industry.
Without these four states, over 100 million Americans don’t have access to sports betting in their home state.
Assuming that the lottery launches sports betting, it will need to partner with one or more international sports betting platforms to provide the technology necessary. If the lottery licenses other state gambling operators to provide sports betting, there is more scope for other brand names to enter the market.
Then there is the Seminole Tribe. It could do what some other major casino operators like Penn National have done, and partner with several technology providers. On the other hand, it could just go with one major brand.
The big brands looking to enter the market if they are allowed to do so include:
The debate over legalizing sports betting in Florida has largely moved past the arguments of those who are pro- and anti-gambling.
It is now clear that the best option for providing protection to the public is a legal sports betting offer that is well regulated with controlled advertising.
Research estimates that the US sports betting market takes upward of $150 billion in bets each year. The revenue from these bets has flowed to offshore illegal betting sites and to criminal bookies for years.
Americans want to bet on sports, and they do bet on sports even if the law won’t allow US businesses to offer them the chance to do so. And in most states that’s the case. Online sports betting is normally illegal for the operator, but not illegal for the bettor. No sports bettor has ever been prosecuted for placing online bets at an offshore site.
Legalizing sports betting provides a channel to recover the revenues currently flowing offshore, and it provides a safe space where sports bettors can pursue their hobby legally.
Regulation provides real measures to reduce problem gambling, and sports betting operators in the legal sector are obliged to monitor their customers for signs of incipient problem gambling.
Even the tone of any communication made between sports bettor and operator is evidence of potential problems. When identified early, there is scope for intervention, and those gamblers who are at risk can be referred to the right providers of support services.
From a consumer perspective, legal sports betting offers customers legal redress against any operator in case of a dispute, protection of their funds from misuse and the support of a regulator that puts a high priority on their interests.
Currently the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering regulates:
In addition, Broward and Miami-Dade counties authorize slot machine gaming at pari-mutuel facilities. Tribal gaming is regulated separately from the state.
Each year the state Department of the Lottery sets out a regulatory plan for the lottery’s activities.
It seems clear that a new regulator is required for sports betting. Under the bills currently before the State Senate, the regulator would be part of the Department of the Lottery, and the lottery would be the final authority for the issue of licenses.
Regulating online sports betting is a major change from anything Florida gaming regulators have had to tackle. The lottery will have to recruit new staff skilled in the problems of online gambling and sports betting in particular.