The Path to the Legalization of Florida Sports Betting Just Got a Little Tougher

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: May 3, 2023 12:00 AM
The future of Florida sports betting looks murkier than ever.

It has long been understood that the 2023 Florida legislative sessions would be able to do anything that streamlines the future of sports betting inside The Sunshine State. However, few expected the House of Representatives to actively complicate the outlook on gambling. And yet, that's exactly what they've done.

Put another way: The path to legalization of Florida sports betting just got a little tougher. It might even be a lot tougher.

A new resolution passed by the House of Representatives has raised the threshold for citizen-led constitutional amendments from 60 percent to 66.67 percent moving forward (i.e. roughly two-thirds). What does this have to do with the future of sports betting in Florida? A whole lot, actually.

Let's break down the implications, shall we.

A Larger Share of Voters Will Now Need to Approve Online Florida Sports Betting

This latest move by the House of Representatives impacts online Florida sports betting more than anything else. Indeed, certain in-person gambling laws require voter approval. But we've already seen The Sunshine State bypass that route once. They signed a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe that granted them exclusivity over all in-person sports betting operations back in 2021. That agreement did not require voter approval, since it fell under the existing gaming laws agreed upon between the state and tribe. 

Of course, this sports betting compact was later overturned. We'll discuss this in more detail shortly. But the overarching sentiment still rings true: In-person Florida sports betting doesn't technically require voter approval. The introduction of online sports betting in Florida is another story.

Previously, the state needed 60 percent of the voting population to green light any constitutional amendment on a general election ballot. That share will now be nudged up to almost 67 percent, a change that will be effective almost immediately. Though a 7 percent bump may not seem like much when standing alone, it can represent a fairly large sample size.

Consider this: For every 1 million Florida voters, an extra 70,000 people (approximately) must now vote in favor of any future constitutional amendments. That starts to add up—and then some. While the impact of this decision from the House of Representatives cannot be portrayed in exact terms, we can use recent general elections to help us approximate. For instance, during the 2020 presidential election, around 11 million people from Florida submitted votes. Under prior rules, 6.6 million of those voters would need to approve a constitutional amendment. According to the new resolution, around 7.4 million of those voters would now need to cast votes in favor of a constitutional amendment. That's an increase of roughly 800,000 people.

Once more: This isn't a perfect projection. Not every general election includes a presidential race, and voter turnout is usually higher in those years. Also, not every voter actually casts a ballot for each measure. Many people will simply skip matters that they don't wish to weigh in on. Still, there's no denying that the new constitutional amendment threshold make it harder for online Florida sports betting to get the stamp of approval if and when the time comes.

Speaking of Which, What's Happening with Sports Betting in The Sunshine State?

This question can be answered with one word: Nothing. The future of Florida sports betting remains tied up in litigation. That's been the case since the end of 2021.

For anyone who doesn't know, the Seminole Tribe began accepting wagers through a mobile sports betting app after The Sunshine State debuted in-person wagering. However, the app worked for users even when they weren't physically on tribal property. While the Seminoles argued their betting application was an extension of their tribal property, they were sued by West Flagler Associates, and a District Court Judge eventually overturned their Florida sports betting compact. 

Since then, the issue has been elevated to the Federal Court of Appeals. Arguments have been presented by both sides, but the court is still deliberating on the matter and has provided no timeline for their decision.

It is now nearly two years later since the initial overturning, and no one quite knows when the legal battle will actually end. Even after the appellate court renders their verdict, the issue may still be elevated to the United States Supreme Court. All the while, a slew of online sports betting operators are anxiously waiting to see if and when they'll be able to crack one of the USA's five largest gambling markets. Unfortunately for them, they'll have to wait longer than anyone else.

Legal Online Sports Betting in Florida Remains a Ways Off

No matter how the case between the Seminole Tribe and West Flagler Associates turns outs, legal online sports betting in Florida likely remains years away.

Remember: None of the top online sportsbooks were legally covered under the initial gaming compact, so if it's re-instituted, they'll be plum out of luck. But let's say it gets thrown out. Then what? More nothing. No forms of sports betting would be legal in Florida. 

The state would have to go back to the drawing board. Another sports betting initiative would have to pass through the House of Representatives and Senate. That's where the new voter resolution kicks in. If and when Florida online sports betting gets put on a general election ballot, almost 67 percent of the voting population will need to okay it.

Will that number delay the process even further? It's much too early to say. The litigation between the state of Florida, the Seminoles and West Flagler Associates needs to play out first. And that process, despite already taking years, doesn't yet have an end in sight.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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