Florida March Madness Success Leaves Massive Sports Betting Handle Sidelined

Written By Steve Schult on March 30, 2023 - Last Updated on March 31, 2023
Florida schools in March Madness Final Four

Half of this weekend’s teams in the Final Four of March Madness come from the Sunshine State. With the Florida Atlantic University Owls and the University of Miami Hurricanes on opposite sides of the bracket, there’s even a decent shot at an all-Florida national championship game.

In other words, Florida college basketball fans have a lot to root for this weekend.

On the other hand, Florida sports bettors can only wonder what might’ve been.

The 2021 Florida gaming compact is tied up in the legal system. The deal struck between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe in May 2021 legalized sports betting in Florida.

But a Florida pari-mutuel filed lawsuits against the agreement. In November 2021, the Seminole Tribe launched its online sports betting operation. However, just a few weeks later, a federal judge invalidated the compact and the tribe shuttered the sportsbook.

As a result, Floridians can’t wager on one of the most popular sporting events of the year.

How much would Sunshine State gamblers have bet?

March Madness and the Super Bowl are the two most popular sporting events for bettors. Both events would’ve generated quite a handle for the Seminole Tribe’s sportsbook.

But for the first time in NCAA men’s basketball history, two schools from Florida made the Final Four. That would certainly be a boost to the college basketball betting handle. Especially since alumni of those two universities typically stay in-state after graduation.

According to PlayFL projections, the Florida sports betting market outlined under the now in-question gaming compact would’ve produced $64.6 million worth of Super Bowl wagers. It also estimated more than $150 million in Super Bowl bets with a more free-market Sunshine State sports betting industry.

The NCAA Tournament is the most bet-on sporting event in the US — even more than the Super Bowl — because of the sheer amount of games played. Our sister site PlayMA projected Massachusetts bettors would wager more than $120 million on March Madness.

Florida’s population is three times that of Massachusetts.

Yes, this is a very inexact science. But, given all this information, we can conservatively estimate Florida would have generated $300 million in March Madness bets.

Could the in-state schools bump the betting handle?

Here’s a disclaimer: This section is complete speculation.

Sports betting outside Nevada was illegal until 2018. Furthermore, only about half of the states currently have a regulated betting market. This highlights how limited the amount of data available is to gauge this accurately.

But we don’t see how there wouldn’t have been at least a small boost from the two in-state teams still competing.

South Florida bettors should provide a boost

Regarding gambling, the state is divided into three different sections.

The northern part of the state leans more toward an anti-gambling stance. Central Florida is indifferent. And South Florida is in favor of it.

Look at a map of where Florida gaming establishments are located, and you’ll see those attitudes born out.

There are seven tribal casinos in the state. Five are in South Florida, one is in Southwest Florida near Naples and the other is in Tampa. Six of those facilities are owned and operated by the Seminoles.

Under the current gaming compact, only those casinos can operate slot machines. But voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties voted in 2004 and 2006 to allow the pari-mutuels to operate slot machines.

Since ballot initiatives are changes to the state constitution, they take precedence over any gaming compact.

Since both Florida Atlantic and Miami are located in those two counties, it feels safe to say bettors in the area would boost the overall handle.

How much exactly? It’s tough to say. But with some famous alumni from the University of Miami, it’s hard to see some of them not wagering on their alma mater.

Do you really think Dan Le Batard wouldn’t bet on his Hurricanes?

Photo by AP / Michael Caterina
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Steve Schult

As Managing Editor of PlayFL, Steve will stay on top of all things related to the Florida gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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