Florida is one of the most anticipated future additions to the legal sports betting map as the pastime spreads across the United States.
There are 21 million potential customers who live there. There are scores of tourists or seasonal residents there to splash in the waves, watch Spring Training or take in an amusement park.
Three NFL teams, two NHL teams, two MLB teams, an NBA team and rabidly followed big-time college programs also make Florida sports betting an exciting proposition. So do all the Super Bowls and national championship games that bring fans who want to bet on sports in Florida.
UPDATED: May 19, 2021
The Florida Legislature ratified a new gambling compact that included the inclusion of sports betting in a Special Session.
The Senate approved the deal, 38-1, on May 18 and the House followed with a 97-17 rubber-stamp even after Rep. Randy Fine, one of the chief negotiators with the Tribe, admitted on the floor that he didn’t believe the sports betting portion of the deal would survive legal scrutiny.
Next, the Department of the Interior must approve the compact, as it does with all tribal deals with states.
In the deal, the Tribe would get the green light to offer sports betting at its FL casinos and mobile sports betting by serving as the hub for the state. The Tribe would continue to rule gaming nearly exclusively but race tracks would be allowed to continue offering disputed “banked” card games the Seminoles claim as their right through the compact. The Tribe must make revenue-share payments to the state for its gains, which include the right to explore casino expansion. They would also get the right to add craps and roulette, a long-term desire for full Vegas casino wagering.
The new compact has caused grumbling from long-time gambling advocates in Florida as too one-sided toward the Seminoles and lacking in competition for consumers. Many legal observers also question whether it will pass federal scrutiny under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act because as written, the compact allows the Tribe the right to control mobile gaming off its land.
No. Sports betting is not legal in any form in Florida. A lot of folks want it. Some key legislators do, too. But it won’t be easy.
Progress, however, was made in April 2021 when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping new 30-year compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that set the framework of a sports betting economy in the state. The proposal was discussed in a special session of the State Legislature in May, where it was approved. There is a lot to answer, including if the plan to house the mobile servers for state-wide betting on Tribal land will pass federal scrutiny under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. And what does the state’s largest anti-gambling-expansion business think? That’s the Walt Disney Corp.
The Seminoles which currently enjoy a near-monopoly on Florida casino gaming and in 2019 ceased making $350 million yearly revenue sharing payments in a dispute over that monopoly.
The Seminoles claim the state has failed to enforce its sovereignty as outlined by its 2010 compact by allowing racinos to conduct so-called banked card games. In 2021, Seminole Gaming chairman Jim Allen said in an interview that the tribe, which also believes it holds exclusive rights to sports betting, is able to renew revenue sharing payments up to $500 million a year if a deal could be struck.
“We feel the state may be interested in working with us to reinstitute our revenue share and if that is the mindset of the state, we’re happy to sit down and discuss it,” Allen told CDC Gaming Reports. “We’ve always had a good relationship (with Florida) in my 20 years.”
That’s not the only impediment, however, as in 2018, 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.”
The public relations campaign powering the successful anti-gambling expansion bill was funded predominantly by the Seminoles and Walt Disney Corp., another powerful force within the state that publicly opposes gambling, although the broader company fosters it through ESPN programming.
Yes, but it’s complicated. Estimates put Florida’s potential tax haul in the first year of legalization of sports betting at around $500 million. But Florida’s governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, has been tepid at best regarding gambling, scuttling a cursory agreement between the state and Seminoles in 2020.
The Seminole Tribe generates around $2.5 billion in revenue each year, largely from its Florida casinos and therefore is not hurting financially because of its hold on Class III gaming. It’s not under pressure to enter a deal it doesn’t love. Three interconnected sports betting bills were proposed for the 2021 legislative session, which began on March 2. Realistically, 2023 or beyond feels like the earliest Florida sports fans will get to place bets on their favorite teams. And that’s with quick compromise the state’s numerous stakeholders haven’t exhibited before.
Each year, bills are introduced and each year the hard facts regarding the Seminoles’ exclusivity come back into focus. There’s also the fact that the Florida voter population is extremely disparate in a very large and diverse state and consensus on a potentially divisive issue is difficult to attain on any subject. With Amendment 3 the law of the land, things are even more sticky.
Not only does the Legislature have to pass the necessary laws, but there may need to be another ballot measure. A little-discussed aspect that hinders movement in Florida is the incredibly short term of the state legislative session: 60 days. That leaves little time for working through nuances legislation such as sports betting would require in Florida.
After this, the operators who would be expected to rush into Florida like spring breakers will need to wait on the state to formulate regulations and issue licenses. 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.
From a purely commercial standpoint, Florida could set itself up as a Las Vegas-meets-New Jersey type of sports betting economy. Tourists rush to the state every year for multitudes of different entertainment options. But it stands to reason that if the state legalized the type of full mobile and online sports betting that represents the future of the business and entertainment experience, tourists could place bets at Spring Training games, waiting in line for a Disney roller coaster or wading in the surf.
They would place bets while in town to watch their team play in a Super Bowl or championship game. They could place bets while living in Florida in the winter, before they go home in the summer, leaving all those tax dollars for Florida’s educational system.
Also, no nearby state has legal sports betting yet. Not Georgia. Not Alabama. Mississippi has legal sports betting, in person at a casino sportsbook only, but that’s hundreds of miles away. The nearest legal option is the Bahamas. 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.
Revenues from sports betting are generally targeted for education in Florida as they are in many other states like Tennessee. Even though legislators wrote the $350 million annual revenue share payments out of the Florida budget when the Tribe stopped paying them in 2019, the state faced a $3 billion shortfall from 2020-22.
Adults can play poker in Florida at 18, but all the sports betting bills introduced would put the age limit at 21 and older, which is in line with the vast majority of other states.
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 through a contract with the government that is called a Compact. 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 that have been brought 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 undertaken. The lottery will have to recruit new staff skilled in the problems of online gambling and sports betting in particular.
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 few 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 most coveted untapped sports betting markets in the US, and so far none of them have online sports betting. The vast majority of sports betting revenues come from online wagers — in some states it’s as much as 90% or more — so this part of the market is critical to the industry.
Without these four states, more than 100 million Americans don’t have access to legal sports betting in their home state. Assuming that the Florida Lottery launches sports betting — it would in recent bills — 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 regulators to provide sports betting, there is more scope for other brand names to enter the market.
Then there is the Seminole Tribe, again. 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. It has partnered with bet365 and William Hill Sports Book in the past.
The Seminoles own Hard Rock International and offer online sports betting and in New Jersey, Iowa, and Nevada (in conjunction with William Hill) through that brand. It has had a technology platform partnership with bet365 since 2018. If the tribe was given exclusivity on online sports betting in Florida — which was a negotiating chip in 2020 — that brand could be expected to be front and center, or even exclusive. Or it could license out market access or “skins” as laid out by whatever law was agreed upon by all the parties. Competition would be better for the market.
It should be noted that newly created Hard Rock Digital is filled with former executives of the Stars Group and set to focus on sports betting and online casinos.
The big brands looking to enter the market if they are allowed to do so include:
There are no retail sportsbooks in Florida. Whereas horse bettors can walk into parimutuel betting parlors and plunk down bets on horses, sports bettors have no such recourse in the state.
If sports betting in Florida developed like most of the states that legalized and launched since the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, the seven casinos around the state — and anyone else allowed to do so in the new law — would retrofit bar space into sportsbooks.
They would very much resemble massive sports bars with walls of televisions, betting windows with live tellers accepting wagers, and loungers for hours of game-viewing comfort. Las Vegas casinos have taken these opulent spaces to new levels and made them destinations as a means to offset the encroachment of online play.
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!
There is no cut-and-paste model for sports betting rules just as there is none for how states tax, police, or fund education. New Jersey became the shining example of how a sports betting economy could be set up, with its roaring popularity, financial success and record-breaking amounts wagered. Its early adoption of an online market proved experts were right in asserting that bettors wanted to play anywhere.
But its rule didn’t work for every state. New Jersey had an existing gambling infrastructure to build sports betting upon while Tennessee had nothing but a lottery. Legislators found no appetite for retail sportsbooks in a place that never opted for casinos. Florida has a gambling background with tribal casinos and horse racing.
It doesn’t have mobile and online sports betting, but its success and popularity elsewhere make it a must. In places like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, more than 90% of wagers are placed on phones or computers, creating a steady flow of revenue for state coffers.
Neighboring New York, meanwhile, continues to try to implement mobile betting — it only has retail in a handful of casinos away from New York City — to keep bettors from day-tripping to New Jersey to bet on sports or do so with illegal offshore markets.
Tennessee, which doesn’t even license casinos, set up a mobile-only sports betting market that launched in 2020 and has had its share of problems amidst a stream of successes. It can be done. And given the size of the state of Florida and its dispersed population, mobile betting is the only feasible way to make it not only available but something new customers and tourists would want to play.
Setting up an online sports betting account is simple. It’s 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 gambling site 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.
Yes. This is standard throughout the industry to make sure that bettors are actually in locations that allow sports betting. The software that ensures this comes embedded in the sports betting apps you download to your phone or computer. Users’ location will be verified every time they log in.
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.
Payment processors are also licensed by the state, providing another layer of accountability and security over illegal offshore sportsbooks.
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.
States have conformed what sports and events are bettable by the appetite of their citizens and politicians. Often college sports or “special” markets like the Oscars or other awards shows are forbidden to allay fears that the college athletes or awards voters could be compromised.
In New Jersey, for example, bettors cannot make wagers on in-state college teams like Seton Hall or Rutgers or on college events taking place within state borders because of a provision in the state constitution. New Jersey isn’t alone.
States that disallow betting on in-state college teams:
That said, expect Florida to follow Michigan and North Carolina’s lead as a state with an ingrained, in-state college sports culture that allows wagering on in-state schools. Certainly, protecting young athletes is paramount, but sports betting in Michigan and North Carolina would be hamstrung without the opportunity to play Michigan and Michigan State football and Duke and North Carolina basketball, respectively.
In Florida, the market would be hammered without Florida and Florida State on the menu. 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 sports betting 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 could be authorized full-time or just for special events. They are growing in popularity, and some jurisdictions such as Nevada are creating regulations to allow bets on the most popular events.
High school sports or any sports where there is a majority participation by minors are forbidden.
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 likely to be offered 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.
The tax and fees proposed in State Sen. Jeff Brandes’ bills have been sensible, typically a $100,000 license fee and a 15% tax on sports betting revenues. Those figures could of course be tweaked in negotiations.
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.
A bipartisan bill filed just before the 2021 session sought to include all the stakeholders including the Seminoles and pari-mutuels to bring legal sports betting to Florida.
The status of daily fantasy sports in Florida is nebulous even though national operators continue to play their trade there.
In 1991, the state Attorney General argued that it was illegal, but Florida has not followed up with law. The three new sports betting laws put forth by Brandes – Florida law requires bills to address only one law even if they pertain to the same matter – do not clarify DFS in the state.