Online sports betting could launch in Florida this summer after Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. The compact establishes the regulatory framework required to bring online sports wagering to the Sunshine State. Gov. DeSantis wants the first sportsbooks to launch “by the summer” in order to capitalize upon the start of the new NFL season.
Florida now has the potential to emerge as the new sports betting capital of the United States. New Jersey is currently number one in terms of sports betting handle and revenue, ahead of Nevada, Pennsylvania and Illinois. However, all four of those states could soon be overtaken by New York and Florida. New York currently permits retail sports wagering, but that will all change soon, as lawmakers have signed off a budget that legalizes online sports wagering in the state. The budget language requires the New York Gaming Commission to issue a request to operators for proposals by July and award licenses later this year.
Florida is the third-largest state by population, with around 21.5 million residents. The two largest states, California and Texas, have not legalized sports betting in any form. By contrast, New Jersey has just 9.2 million residents, while Pennsylvania and Illinois both have around 13 million. New York has a slightly smaller population than Florida, but its GDP is significantly higher, so it will be interesting to see which state emerges with the largest sports betting industry.
Gov. DeSantis is excited about the prospect of legal sports betting in Florida. “This historic compact expands economic opportunity, tourism and recreation, and bolsters the fiscal success of our state in one fell swoop for the benefit of all Floridians and Seminoles alike,” he said. The governor claims it will generate $2.5 billion in new revenue over the next five years and $6 billion by 2030.
Florida could now launch online sports betting before New York. “Sports betting really is going on already,” said DeSantis, outlining his reasoning for agreeing to the compact. “Why don’t we come together, put some structure to this, and let it be done in a way where the tribe is in control of the sports, and the state is able to share with some generous revenue payments. We are looking at this thing being hopefully operational by the summer. I think everyone wants it before football season, so that is going to be the goal.”
The gaming compact still needs to be ratified by the Florida legislature and approved by the U.S. Department of Interior. The proposed compact will be addressed when legislators meet in mid-May, and there could be some bureaucratic wrangling, but the compact is likely to be ratified. It would legalize online and mobile sports betting for anyone aged 21 or older in the state.
The compact should provide the Seminole Tribe with a significant windfall. It will have exclusive digital operator rights for the next 30 years. The tribe must pay the state a minimum of $500 million per year, and it can increase if profits are high. The Seminoles can manage contracts with other pari-mutuel gaming operators, who can in turn tie up deals with online sports betting operators like FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, William Hill and Bet365. It also permits the tribe to launch retail sports betting operations.
“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is committed to a mutually-beneficial gaming compact with the State of Florida and looks forward to its approval by the Florida Legislature, the Seminole Tribal Council and the U.S. Department of the Interior,” said Marcellus Osceola Jr., chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. “The Tribe wants to express our sincere thanks to Gov. DeSantis, Senate President Simpson, House Speaker Sprowls and many others who have worked hard to negotiate a historic agreement that cements our partnership with the state for decades to come.”
Simpson said: “The historic new 30-year gaming compact Gov. DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida executed restores the state’s relationship with the Tribe, preserves and offers new opportunities for Florida’s legacy pari-mutuel industry, and provides substantial new revenues for the State of Florida.” He said he is committed to the upcoming legislative session, where he will champion “the implementation of this monumental agreement and to ratify the compact”.
It is the largest and most expansive gaming compact in U.S. history, so the Seminole Tribe will be on tenterhooks during the upcoming legislative session. However, Sprowls is also keen on the agreement, so all of the state’s most powerful politicians are on board. “For years, there has been much ambiguity around the compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida,” said Sprowls. “We thank Gov. DeSantis for bringing that to a conclusion and for giving us the opportunity to address this key issue for our state. We look forward to reviewing the compact in an upcoming Special Session.”
Some studies have estimated that sports betting will create more than 2,200 jobs in Florida. The compact also provides protections for pari-mutuel operations and allows the Seminole Tribe to expand their estate of land-based properties across the state, so it certainly has the potential to turn the state into a leading gambling destination.
Florida, New York, Arizona and Maryland all moved closer to legal sports betting in April, making it one of the most consequential months since the Supreme Court struck down PASPA – the federal sports betting ban – in May 2018. Arizona and Maryland both passed sports betting bills during April, and more than half of the states in the U.S. have now legalized sports betting.
Arizona’s gaming tribes and professional sports teams can start to launch retail and online sportsbooks in the next 12 months, while Maryland officials have approved 60 online and more than 30 retail sports betting licensees to be offered to state casinos, racetracks, professional sports venues and various other business interests. Both states should benefit from highly competitive markets. They both have relatively large populations and major sports teams, so they should prove to be attractive destinations for sports betting operators.