Florida offers numerous types of legal gambling and is exploring the possibility of adding more. That said, while many in the state find the prospect of gambling expansion exciting, others vehemently oppose it.
Regarding gambling in the Sunshine State, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has an outsized influence. The Seminoles are the only federally recognized Native American tribe in Florida with a tribal-state compact. However, many other businesses and influential parties have a say in Florida gambling, too. As such, many competing interests can make any change to current gambling laws a difficult proposition.
Case in point, in 2021 Florida lawmakers approved a new compact with the Seminoles authorizing the tribe to offer legal sports betting. But a lawsuit brought by the owners of other gambling properties resulted in the new compact being vacated. That ruling was appealed and overturned. Sports betting and craps and roulette at casinos could start as early as the 2023 NFL season, pending appeal of a new hearing.
Here is a rundown of the major “players” in Florida that sorts them into friends and foes of gambling expansion. Note that even those on the same side can have differences between them, making the situation all the more complicated.
The friends of expanded Florida gambling
Lumping any group into a single classification is an oversimplification. However, below are some groups that favor the expansion of various forms of gambling in Florida.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida
The Seminole Tribe of Florida operates six casinos in the state. The tribe is also unquestionably Florida’s biggest proponent of gambling expansion. Of course, the fact the tribe enjoys a near-monopoly on most forms of legal gambling certainly matters here.
The new compact that the tribe negotiated with the state in 2021 would have increased both its gambling offerings and its overall influence on gambling in the state. However, as noted a federal ruling vacated the new compact, and both the tribe and the US Department of Interior are appealing the ruling.
While the Seminole Tribe is essentially “pro-gambling,” it does nonetheless keep its own interests in the foreground when it comes to introducing new gambling expansion. For example, in 2018 the tribe joined other groups — including opponents of gambling — to support the controversial Amendment 3, which passed overwhelmingly. The legislation created the need for a voter referendum for certain types of gambling expansion, thereby making the likelihood of additional, non-Seminole casinos coming to the state highly improbable.
Alongside the Seminole-operated casinos are a number of pari-mutuel facilities with poker rooms, jai alai betting and wagering on horse races. Some of these facilities previously had greyhound racing tracks. However, dog racing became illegal in Florida at the start of 2021, and those tracks all closed.
While the pari-mutuel operators sometimes (or even often) knock heads with the Seminole Tribe, both groups generally support gambling expansion. In fact, the new tribal-state compact negotiated in 2021 authorizing sports betting included a provision enabling some pari-mutuels to partner with the tribe in order to offer brick-and-mortar sports betting themselves.
The caveat was that the pari-mutuels that offered sports betting would need to give the tribe a large percentage of their net revenue. Several pari-mutuel operators were eager to make such deals with the Seminoles, including Hialeah Park Casino, Ocala Gainesville Poker and Ocala Breeders’ Club, Palm Beach Kennel Club, Tampa Bay Downs and TGT Poker & Racebook.
Not every pari-mutuel operator was excited by the prospect, however. One, in particular, was West Flagler Associates which operates the Magic City Casino in Miami and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Bonita Springs.
West Flagler filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the new compact, citing the sports betting model. In Nov. 2021 a federal judge ruled it did indeed violate federal law. That vacated the new compact, but in June 2023, the DC Court of Appeals overturned that ruling. Terms of the new compact are once again in play. West Flagler could appeal that decision to the US Supreme Court or file a lawsuit in state court to invalidate the compact.
All of which is to say, you can count the pari-mutuels as gambling supporters. But when it comes to gambling expansion, the pari-mutuels reserve support for types of expansion that serve their ongoing interests.
(At least some) Florida professional teams
It is probably unfair to group all Florida-based professional sports franchises into this box. Even so, at least some teams have indicated support for gambling expansion.
The Miami Dolphins, for instance, actually opposed Amendment 3, meaning it supported the idea of allowing commercial casinos without a voter referendum. Such a position was interesting given that the Seminole Tribe owns the naming rights to the team’s Hard Rock Stadium.
Not all teams have spoken out in favor of gambling expansion. Even so, one would reasonably expect some or all to welcome sports betting as an opportunity to make partnerships. After all, most leagues only allow for partnerships with gambling operators who operate lawfully in a team’s state.
In October 2022, the Miami Heat and Betway signed a multi-year partnership, making the company the “preferred free to play gaming partner” of the Heat.
The American Legion of Florida and other nonprofit organizations
While the American Legion of Florida is perhaps not the most obvious group of gambling supporters, it also has an interest in expanded gambling.
Like the Dolphins, the group also came out in opposition to Amendment 3. They did so because they viewed the legislation as posing a threat to charitable gaming in the state. Charitable gaming represents a principal source of fundraising for the American Legion and many other nonprofit organizations.
The Walt Disney Company is the largest single-site employer in Florida. Disney is also an important influence upon the state’s economy and politics. Until very recently, Disney had been a staunch opponent of gambling for many decades. As an indication of such opposition, Disney teamed up with the Seminole Tribe in an incredibly well-funded effort to see Amendment 3 successfully passed in 2018.
However, the company has softened its antagonism toward gambling over recent years. One factor affecting Disney’s position was becoming majority owners of the sports entertainment network ESPN.
In August 2023, Disney clearly moved from potential gambling foe to a company that fully embraces it. On Aug. 8, ESPN and Penn Entertainment announced a deal that will see ESPN operate branded sportsbooks. The branded sportsbook will be called ESPN Bet and will be available in the 16 states where Penn currently operates mobile sportsbooks. Disney will receive $1.5 billion over the next 10 years and the company will also pick up $500 million in shares of Penn stock.
ESPN Bet will be ESPN’s exclusive sportsbook as the company hopes to chip into the market dominance of FanDuel and DraftKings.
The foes of expanded Florida gambling
As mentioned above, gambling can be a sprawling, complicated topic. A group might support one type of gambling while opposing another. Some gambling opponents in Florida, however, are fairly steadfast.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce
The Florida Chamber of Commerce is an influential group that unambiguously opposes gambling expansion.
In 2017, the Chamber of Commerce advocated for “more engineers, physicians, and teachers – not blackjack dealers.” The following year the group supported Amendment 3, once more indicating its disfavor with the idea of adding new casinos in the state. Then in 2019, the Chamber of Commerce issued a formal statement “Opposing the Expansion of Las Vegas-Style Casino Gambling.”
As the statement explains, “Stopping the expansion of Las Vegas-style casino gambling has been and will continue to be, a top priority for the Florida Chamber.”
Various conservative-leaning groups have also consistently opposed gambling expansion in the Sunshine State.
The recent compact agreement was opposed by groups such as Florida Family Action. Previously, Amendment 3 was supported by the Florida Family Policy Council, another conservative group that would generally not be expected to endorse gambling expansion.
These groups often represent a vocal group of supporters who can be influential in seeking their policy objectives.
Monterra AF is a nonprofit organization comprised of Florida businessmen and property owners who oppose expanded gambling in the state. After Florida lawmakers approved the 2021 tribal-state compact, Monterra AF filed a federal lawsuit charging the arrangement constituted illegal gambling expansion.
As noted above, the West Flagler Associates lawsuit earned a favorable ruling that vacated the compact. That ruling is being appealed, and while there was discussion of combining the West Flagler and Monterra AF lawsuits, each of the plaintiffs has maintained their arguments against the compact are distinct from one another. West Flagler Associates has targeted the compact’s attempt to allow the tribe to offer sports betting outside of its lands (including via mobile sports betting) as violating the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Meanwhile, Monterra AF is arguing the compact violates Amendment 3 as it illegally expands gambling without any input from Florida voters.
In any event, with its lawsuit, Monterra AF further established its opposition toward gambling expansion.
No Casinos, Inc.
No Casinos, Inc. has been one of the most visible opponents of expanded gambling in Florida for an extended period. The group, founded by former Gov. Reuben Askew, has sought to stop efforts to expand gambling in the state on multiple occasions.
The group’s anti-gambling campaigns date back to 1978. Most recently, No Casinos argued in 2021 that the revised tribal-state compact violated Amendment 3. They, too, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new compact.
Dan Gelber, Mayor of Miami Beach
Another opponent of expanded gambling has been Dan Gelber, the mayor of Miami Beach. Gelber forcefully opposed the new tribal-state compact in 2021, at the time voicing particular concern over the potential expansion of casinos to the Fountainebleau Hotel and Trump National Doral.
According to the mayor, the expansion of casino-style gambling to those prominent properties would not serve community interests.
Keeping score of support vs. opposition
As the example of Disney discussed above demonstrates, keeping track of gambling friends and foes in Florida can be challenging. Not only have some parties switched sides, there are divisions between those who otherwise agree about gambling, generally speaking.
In any event, whenever there is proposed gambling expansion in Florida, there will be controversy. The size of the state, as well as the powerful residents who call the state home, means that there is no shortage of money to launch powerful campaigns whenever gambling-related issues arise.