Gov. DeSantis Signs Florida Sports Betting Bill into Law Amid Legal Concerns

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed into law a gaming compact that will allow the Seminole Tribe to operate sports betting in the state. The executive signature, which came Tuesday, requires the federal approval to give effect to the 75-page Florida gaming compact. The US Department of the Interior now has 45 days to consider the 30-year compact.

The final draft of the compact was passed in both the chambers of the legislature in a special session last week.

Under the renegotiated compact that will remain in effect until 2051, the Seminole Tribe will be allowed to operate sports betting, besides having additional gaming options like roulette and craps. In turn, Florida will receive $20 billion over the next 30 years.

In addition to sports betting and extended casino offerings, SB 2-A will also allow the tribe to offer online sports betting in Florida, which will receive $2.5 billion over the first five years of the new agreement.

As per the deal, the Seminoles will have to contract with at least three pari-mutuels within three months after sports betting launches. Also, the tribe cannot launch sports betting offerings until Oct. 15.

What Else Happened on Tuesday?

Besides SB 2-A, DeSantis also signed Tuesday another bill -SB 4-A- that forms a five-member Florida Gaming Control Commission, whose members will be appointed by the governor himself. The commission members, after receiving confirmation from Florida Senate, will serve four-year terms.

DeSantis also signed another bill that could ban most live horse racing and jai alai games in the Sunshine State. SB 8-A would disallow pari-mutuel operators to conduct harness racing, quarter-horse racing, and jai alai, but they can keep more lucrative options like card rooms. In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, pari-mutuel operators can have slot machines.

Legal Challenges Feared

Though the deal has been signed by the governor, many- including some lawmakers- expect legal challenges in the coming days.

Democrats opposing the compact maintained that it argued Amendment 3 approved by voters in 2018. The critics, who question the legality of the new Florida gaming compact, argue that the said constitution barred the expansion of gambling outside of tribal lands without voter approval.

Under the new agreement, the Seminoles would be allowed to have sports betting, including online sports betting, (effective Oct. 15) at horse tracks, jai alai frontons, and tracks previously used for dog race for a share of the income.

Critics argue that it violates the state constitution as it allows bets on sports off tribal land. Supporters of the new compact maintain it is legal because the servers that process bets would be located on tribal property.

After voter approval of a 2018 constitutional amendment, the new law would only allow thoroughbred horse races at the state tracks. However, Florida lawmakers agreed to get rid of the requirement. The new law will take effect when the new gaming compact receives the federal nod.

What’s Next?

Florida has become the most populated state to have legalized sports betting, replacing New York which recently regulated mobile sports betting.

Now the compact awaits the action (or inaction) of the Office of Indian Gaming within the 45-day time frame. If the federal agency does not act within the specified time, the compact automatically goes into effect.

According to the regulations, a compact can be disapproved on a few specified grounds.

If upheld by the federal authority, the compact kickstarts sports betting as early as Oct. 15. The Seminoles will run online sports betting on their tribal lands. The gaming tribe is bound to share 13.75% of its revenue from sports betting with the state as part of a guaranteed minimum payment of $500 million for the next five years from all its betting revenues.

The compact additionally allows 19 existing pari-mutuel operators to have sports betting operations through their facilities. But they must partner with the tribe, which in turn must act in “good faith” to allow at least three sportsbooks run via pari-mutuel license partners or pay an additional 2% penalty.

The pari-mutuel partners would also pay a 40% fee to the Seminole Tribe.

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