If approved by the Florida Legislature in a special session planned for May 17, a proposal to legalize sports betting — including online gambling via apps like FanDuel and DraftKings — would bring much-needed revenue to state coffers and possibly provide an economic lift for facilities like Derby Lane in St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa, which could offer brick-and-mortar sportsbooks at their facilities in addition to poker rooms.
That’s the prediction of Lou Monaco, a New Jersey-based writer and analyst who covers the entire East Coast gambling industry for Gambling.com. Speaking to the Catalyst, he said he would be surprised if the measure, announced last week, failed.
“My sense is it’s going to pass,” Monaco said. “It’s just a matter of how the tribal nations are going to be factored in. They obviously did a deal with the Seminole Tribe, and that’s tremendous … then it’s just a matter of what happens next.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did indeed hammer out a deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which controls much of the state’s gambling industry, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa. If the measure becomes law, the tribe would pay the state between $500 million and $600 million per year for the next 30 years.
“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,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement issued last week. “Our agreement establishes the framework to generate billions in new revenue and untold waves of positive economic impact. I would like to thank Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr., Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls for their collective commitment to modernizing the gaming industry in the state of Florida and setting the bar for the rest of the nation.”
Monaco said Florida’s Republican-led Legislature will jump at the chance to add such a large chunk of revenue to the state’s bottom line without having to raise taxes.
“A lot of states are looking for brand-new revenue because of the coronavirus situation and everything else,” he said, “and they don’t want to tax the hell out of people. Sports betting is really a great way to generate revenue because it’s the people who want to put money up. If they lose, they lose; if they win, they win. It’s not like you’re saying, ‘All right, I’m taxing you. This is what you’re going to have to pay.’ It’s basically the individual’s decision if they want to make the bet or not.”
Even if the Legislature OKs the deal next month, Tampa Bay bettors will have to bide their time before placing their faith, and dollars, in Tom Brady, Kevin Kiermaier and Nikita Kucherov. The U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees tribal gaming, will have to review the arrangement, Monaco said, adding that the deal could also face legal challenges from other tribes; however, in Florida, the Miccosukee Tribe is the only other federally recognized tribal nation.
“It’s very interesting that basically this deal was for just the Seminole Tribe,” he said. “In Arizona, which passed [sports betting] legislation a couple of weeks ago, they had major negotiations with all the tribal nations and they all came together in an agreement.”
Lest anyone think that the Seminole Tribe would have a monopoly on sports betting, popular online gambling platforms like FanDuel would be allowed to operate in Florida, with a catch, according to Monaco: E-commerce from their websites and apps would have to run through tribal servers, allowing the Seminoles to take a piece, possibly as high as 40 percent, of the pie.
“That’s where the Seminole nation actually gets a lot of extra money in addition to all the other money that will be coming in as far as bets are concerned,” Monaco said.
At present, 21 states and the District of Columbia allow sports betting. In addition to Florida, New York also introduced legislation that would allow the practice. Texas looks to be a likely addition in the near future, as well, Monaco said. And with three of the nation’s most populous states on board, there will be no going back, he predicted.
“Sports betting is going to be legal, in some form or fashion, in all 50 states,” he said. “As far as when that happens with these other states that don’t have it, or haven’t even started anything, that’s a question to be answered in the future. But I think a lot of states, especially the big states, they realize what they have here and say, ‘Hey, let’s try to do it. We need to have it rather than not.’”
According to American Gaming Association statistics from February 2021, the most recent data set available, most forms of gambling revenue saw sharp declines, year over year, likely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sports betting, however, brought in $609.5 million, an increase of 171.7 percent. The AGA also reported that 47.4 million Americans, or 18 percent of the entire U.S. population, planned to wager on the NCCA men’s basketball tournament.