Opposing Forces Drive Sports Betting in Florida, US

Written By Rashid Mohamed on June 9, 2022
Opposing forces on sports betting are at work in Florida and across US.

The gambling scene in America has exploded over the past decade, taking in $4.33 billion from US bettors last year alone. That’s more than $13 for every man, woman, and child in the country. Currently, opposing forces on sports betting are at work in Florida and across the US.

With a population of 22 million, The Sunshine State is considered one of the largest potential gambling markets in the nation. Florida, like many states where sports betting isn’t quite legal, has a complex stance on daily fantasy sports. The practice is not definitively outlawed by the state, yet there aren’t any laws in the books allowing it either.

US legal sports betting in its infancy

This major shift in America’s sports betting landscape happened in 2018, shortly after the US Supreme Court released a game-changing ruling that paved the way for widespread legal sports betting.

By striking down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA), which effectively confined sports betting to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the court opened the practice to any state willing to allow it.

Today, nearly every state has at least considered legalizing sports betting. The reality remains, however, that full online sports betting will only be legal in about 12 states for the foreseeable future. That is due to either deep-seated opposition to gambling or complex tribal relationships.

Just to be clear, Americans had been betting on sports substantially even before the Supreme Court ruling. According to the American Gaming Association, an estimated $7 billion in unlawful mobile sports betting is occurring in what’s known as the “gray market.” All that’s needed now is to harness those earnings into a lawful enterprise.

Breaking down the resistance

It wasn’t long ago that the list of people and institutions opposing the spread of US sports betting was long and varied. Influential sports leagues like the NFL for instance were vehemently against any form of sports betting. They argued that it would negatively influence the integrity of the game.

Now, however, the league has partnerships with several gambling-related companies. A record number of bets were placed during the last Super Bowl. It’s safe to say the NFL had a complete change of heart on the issue. The rise in popularity of fantasy football was likely a major factor in the turnaround.

Then there are the religious objections. Churches and other religiously affiliated groups are among those fighting the expansion of sports betting. Faith leaders contend that increasing access to gambling harms vulnerable communities, encourages greed and violates religious teachings.

They may be fighting a losing battle, however. While 59% of pastors believe that gambling on sports is immoral, according to LifeWay Research, only 31% of US adults feel the same way.

The industry also needed to shed the stigmas tied to it. For years, people assumed there were ties to the mob and numerous scandals, several involving point shaving.

Top drivers leading to mainstream sports betting

There has been a fundamental change in the past ten years within society and sports leagues. It was once taboo to broach the topic of sports betting. It’s now accepted in most circles.

Attribute America’s dramatic u-turn on sports betting to a multitude of factors. One of those drivers was the prominent rise of daily fantasy sports, which has pretty much created an economy of its own. FanDuel and DraftKings, two of the largest fantasy sports operators, even made the transition to becoming online sportsbooks as well.

No sooner had the Supreme Court rendered its verdict on PAPSA did the media begin to embrace point-spread talk. In fact, the very day the ruling came, Golden State coach Steve Kerr made a tongue-in-cheek reference to sports betting. He said he would take the Warriors +1.5.

Equally important to making sports betting mainstream were the professional sports leagues’ softening stance. For decades, the leagues feared that legalized sports gambling would blend with match-fixing and corruption, eventually hurting the integrity of the sport.

As noted above, the NFL completely changed its stance. In the past, reluctance to the practice was so strong that NFL players were prohibited from participating in events that took place at or were sponsored by casinos.

Things began to slowly change starting in 2014. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver penned an opinion piece in the New York Times in favor of legalizing and regulating sports betting. The other leagues took notice. Realizing the potential profits from embracing legalized sports betting was probably the deciding factor.

Florida sports betting history

Florida’s first attempt at legalizing sports betting came in March 2020. Lawmakers sat down with the Seminole Tribe to hammer out a compact. Due to time constraints, however, an agreement never materialized.

A major breakthrough was achieved in April 2020 when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a deal with the tribe. The Florida House approved it a month later. It didn’t take long for the first opposition to appear. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber issued a letter to the Department of the Interior, pressing them to reconsider the deal.

A few lawsuits ensued. One from the ownership group of a few South Florida pari-mutuels protesting the ‘hub-and-spoke’ sports betting model. And another from a group of businessmen backed by an anti-gambling advocacy group that opposed casino gaming expansion. The suits ultimately pushed back Oct. 15 launch date for online sports betting in Florida.

Sports betting went live in Florida on November 1 with the Seminole Tribe launching its Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app. But the compact still faced a number of legal challenges. One of those legal disputes ended up gaining ground. After a federal judge agreed with the pari-mutuels and ruled the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Seminoles were forced to take down their mobile app in December 2021.

With Judge Dabney Friedrich’s ruling, the US Courts of Appeals for the District of Columbia essentially blocked the agreement between Florida and the Seminoles since the IGRA  requires a person to be physically on tribal land when placing a wager.

Florida could yield $2.5 billion over the next five years when the deal is done again. With no sports betting initiative on the November ballot, pent-up demand for gambling will continue to grow in The Sunshine State.

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Rashid Mohamed

Rashid Mohamed is an international journalist with a special interest in sports writing. He is a Poli-Sci graduate of Ohio University and holds an A.A.S in Journalism. He has worked in a number of countries and has extensive experience in the United Nations as well as other regional, national, and international organizations. Rashid lives and writes out of Denver, Colorado.

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