Florida Lawmakers Add Legal Sports Betting to its 2021 Agenda

As far as states that have yet to legalize sports betting, Florida could be one of the more lucrative markets left on the board.

More than half or the US 50 states should be offering legal sports betting by the end of 2021. Whether or not Florida will be on the list is still anyone’s guess.

In a positive development concerning Florida’s current situation, three separate bills have been filed for the next legislative session in March. Backed by Sen. Jeffery Brandes, this could be the first big step in the right direction.

The overall proposal offers a number of different ways to expand into legal sports betting in the Sunshine State. In a unique twist, one aspect of the measure would prohibit anyone affiliated with sports and/or the sports betting industry from placing bets.

The governing body would be the state lottery department. That suggests that the state proceeds from legal sports betting would benefit Florida’s educational system.

A major step forward in the state actually took place in 2019. This involved a deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who control the state’s casino gambling industry through various tribal casinos.

The state’s current president of the Senate is Wilton Simpson. He was instrumental in negotiating that agreement. He proposed a 31-year deal which would set up the Seminole Tribe as the central host of all sports betting in Florida.

That measure failed to gain enough traction with lawmakers in 2020 and it was never approved. Moving to 2021, there is a massive $3 billion shortfall in the state budget. The funding situation has more and more lawmakers open to legal sports betting as viable stream of tax revenue.

There are three state Senate bills addressing the matter according to governmental records, SB 392, SB 394 and SB 396. The first bill sets up Florida’s Department of the Lottery as the controlling party.

SB 394 would create a 15 percent state tax on revenue from all ‘sports pools’. The actual wording would need to be clarified.

The final Senate bill concerns the licensing process. It has provisions for a $100,000 application fee plus renewals. It that figure holds up, this would one of the lowest up-front costs in the nation.

This highly lucrative sports betting market still has some high hurdles to clear. The sheer amount of professional and collegiate teams alone would fuel the overall demand. However, along with the past issues with the Seminole Tribe, Disney has been a vocal opponent against legal sports betting.

The massive entertainment company promotes a “family-friendly” atmosphere for the state. It does see any expansion of legal gambling fitting into that description.

Everything could still come down to the voters. Florida is set up for a voter referendum on the matter similar to other states. Current law has the provision that at least 60 percent of the state’s eligible voters would have to favor the referendum for it to become law.

The Seminole Tribe could be a very disruptive force in that vote if any proposed legislation does not fully protect their gambling interests and current exclusivity.

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