The founder of one of the largest online sportsbooks and sports media companies in the country threw his support behind a Sunshine State ballot initiative that would allow for multiple sports betting sites in Florida.
Dave Portnoy is the founder of Barstool Sports, which owns the Barstool Sportsbook mobile betting app. Late last week, the 44-year-old tweeted a video encouraging Florida voters to sign a petition that would prevent the Seminole Tribe from being the only online sports betting option.
Florida sports betting currently in disarray
Last April, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe agreed to a new 30-year gaming compact. The federal government approved the new agreement in August through inaction by the Department of the Interior.
The new agreement expanded Florida’s gambling options and legalized sports betting through a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model. As a result of the model, the new compact essentially gave the Seminole Tribe a monopoly on the state’s sports betting market.
The Seminole Tribe would be the only entity permitted to operate an online sportsbook. The tribe would act as the centerpiece of the entire operation from a retail perspective. Any pari-mutuel facility that opened a brick-and-mortar sportsbook location would do so as a contracted vendor of the tribe. The pari-mutuel would have to give 40% of its revenue to the Seminoles.
The ownership group of two pari-mutuel facilities felt this was an unfair model and violated federal standards. The Havenick family, which owns Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, filed a federal and state lawsuit against the new deal in the following months.
A U.S. District Judge dismissed the state-level lawsuit in October. Even though the federal case was still pending, the Seminole Tribe launched its online sportsbook at the start of November.
However, the online sportsbook paused its operation in December. The move came after a federal judge ruled in favor of the Havenick family just before Thanksgiving. Federal District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the sports betting model violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and a 2018 ballot initiative stating that citizens must approve all gambling expansions at the ballot.
The Seminoles have appealed the ruling and stated that they would continue the legal battle in the courts.
Major operators look to bust possible Seminole monopoly with ballot initiative
While the legal battle was playing out, other sports betting operators looked for ways to access the market.
Last summer, a political committee dubbed Florida Education Champions began a signature-gathering process to put sports betting legalization on the 2022 ballot. Both DraftKings and FanDuel made eight-figures worth of donations to help the cause.
Each contributed $10 million to the committee in June. DraftKings added another $12.7 million in October, while FanDuel donated an additional $4.4 million in October and November.
To get the issue in front of voters, the committee needs nearly 1 million signatures. If the initiative passes at the ballot box, it will give bettors a more comprehensive array of sportsbooks to frequent. Instead of being forced to bet with the tribe, other operators would likely partner with smaller pari-mutuel facilities.
However, getting the issue on the ballot is proving to be tougher than it appeared. The group has until Feb. 1 to gather the 891,000 signatures needed, but there were only 338,000 names on the petition as of mid-January.
Using Portnoy’s following to get the remaining signatures
With time winding down, the PAC reached out to Portnoy to rally the troops.
Portnoy founded Barstool Sports in 2003, and the media outlet steadily gained in popularity over the next decade. In 2016, The Chernin Group acquired a majority stake in Barstool for an undisclosed amount between $10 and $15 million.
As sports betting legalization began sweeping the country, a gaming operator wanted a piece of the brand. In January 2020, Penn National Gaming bought 36% of Barstool for $163 million. The company planned to use it to help promote its online sportsbooks.
In September of that same year, Penn helped launch Barstool Sportsbook in Pennsylvania. The sportsbook quickly expanded to Illinois and Michigan and is currently available in 11 states.
As Barstool’s popularity increased, Portnoy’s follower count on social media did the same. Subsequently, the 44-year-old’s 2.7 million Twitter followers made him a prime candidate to help in the home stretch of the signature-gathering process. Especially since most of that following is the target market for sports betting apps.
He released a two-minute video on his Twitter page last Thursday where he urged Floridians to sign the petition.
Emergency Press Conference – I Am Here to Save Sports Gambling in Florida pic.twitter.com/2Ne6DQ97D9
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) January 14, 2022
Throughout the two-minute video, Portnoy used free-market arguments to appeal to voters. He also argued that the democratic process should take place before the market is given to the Seminoles.
“We got to get it on the ballot to let the voters decide. Yes, or No? Do you want sports gambling in November? Or do you just want the Seminoles? Because if you just have the Seminoles, you’re not going to be able to shop lines. You’re not getting promos… You’ll have one option. It’s bad for people.”
Potential for Florida gambling boom
Florida is one of the largest states in the country with a population of 21.48 million. With that kind of population, the state could become one of the most successful gaming markets in the nation. By comparison, New Jersey is one of the largest betting markets, with less than half of Florida’s resident count.
There are 8.8 million people living in New Jersey and it is one of the few states that have reached monthly sports betting handles of at least $1 billion.