Why Did Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Ever Sign The State's Controversial Gaming Compact?

Why Did Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Ever Sign The State's Controversial Gaming Compact?

At a time when the status of sports betting in Florida remains gridlocked, everyone from industry experts to the state's voters are searching for answers. And they don't just want to know about the hold up in the process. They want to know why and how we arrived here in the first place. This, in turn, has led them to Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

Though DeSantis was recently re-elected for another term in office, his approval rating isn't exactly through the roof. Florida is a notoriously Republican state when it comes to macro politics. DeSantis appears to have benefited from his party affiliation more than his actual appeal. Granted, this could be overstated in this particular moment. Election season is still fresh in our minds and prone to hyperbole. We'll know for sure where DeSantis stands among Florida voters when we find out whether his bid to become a 2024 presidential candidate is successful.

Regardless, sports betting enthusiasts throughout the Sunshine State are generally not happy with the governor. He was the one who signed a sports betting compact with the Seminole that has since been repealed. And not only was it repealed, but that gaming compact is the basis for a legal battle now spilling into its second year.

This leads us to the why and how of it all. Why did DeSantis sign such a controversial gaming compact in the first place? And how is Florida still unable to reach a resolution? We don't have all the answers, but we have some. And these answers offer clues to the Florida legal sports betting timeline

Here's Why the Gaming Compact Ron DeSantis Negotiated Was So Controversial

Before we dig into why DeSantis signed a gaming compact with the Seminole tribe, we must first understand what the agreement entailed. For the most part, it can be summed up in one word: exclusivity.

The agreement DeSantis entered into with the Seminole tribe granted them exclusive rights to Florida sports betting. By extension, it also prevented the implementation of online sports betting in Florida. This meant that bigger retail sportsbooks such as DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, etc. were not allowed to operate within the state. Mind you, this also meant that other federally recognized tribes in Florida had no sports betting rights. The Seminole tribe alone was allowed to conduct on-site sports wagering.

This structure was controversial enough. Yet, DeSantis took it one step further. He allowed the Seminole tribe to offer mobile sports betting via their own application made in partnership with a retail sportsbook. Under the gaming compact, users could only access the app while on tribal grounds. However, the Seminole tribe argued the app was an extension of tribal property, and that users should be able to access it so long as they remained within the state.

Retail online sportsbooks and other Florida tribes took exception to what they considered an unconstitutional loophole and monopoly. A federal district judge ended up agreeing with them, and sports betting in Florida was subsequently repealed in 2021. It has remained that way ever since.

Experts generally agree the Florida governor is at least partially responsible for the failure of sports betting. Had never entered into such a restrictive agreement with the Seminole tribe, some form of sports betting in Florida could still be legal today.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Defends Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe

Through it all, though, DeSantis has defended his decision. And he finally explained why. Here's a synopsis of his thought process, courtesy of NewsPatrolling.com:

"DeSantis claimed that sports betting was included despite the fact that he was aware that if it wasn’t, it may be legalized without the state benefiting in any manner. DeSantis has admitted that he can only talk to the tribes directly. 'According to the new law that was implemented in 2018, I am prohibited from engaging in any other kind of gambling,' he said. It was a dig at the No Casinos amendment, whose supporters were challenging the Seminoles Tribe of Florida’s Gaming Compact in court. Voters in Florida would have to OK any new casinos under this proposal."

In essence, DeSantis believes he didn't have a choice. The current laws in Florida only allowed for him to negotiate gaming compacts with tribes. If he refused, he believed the state would miss out on sports betting altogether.

This is backwards logic. Yes, Florida laws prohibited him from simply allowing online sports betting. But he could have negotiated on-site sports betting agreements that included multiple tribes rather than just one. He did not need to offer exclusivity to the Seminole tribe. And he also could have sought to amend the constitution with a different sports betting proposal altogether. There's no guarantee it would have passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate, but it was an alternative course of action other states have already taken.

Florida Sports Betting Still on Hold for the Foreseeable Future

As a result of DeSantis' gaming compact with the Seminole tribe, the future of Florida sports betting remains in lurch. We already know a verdict on the Florida sports betting battle won't be rendered until 2023. And that's just a timeline for the decision itself. The state could be in for more appeals and litigation.

In the interest of full disclosure, we wouldn't even dare to predict a timeline for Florida sports betting. The absolutely earliest is probably sometime in 2025. And even that might be ambitious.

Florida residents are free to explore other options in the meantime. Plenty of sites that make our reviews of the top online sportsbooks will allow Floridians to set up and service accounts. They can also travel to nearby states that have already legalized sports betting.

Whichever route they choose, Floridians better get used to it. Because from the looks of things, it doesn't look like Florida sports betting will return, in any form, anytime soon. And sports betting enthusiasts throughout the state have Ron DeSantis to thank for that more than anyone else.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find which one works for all of your sports betting needs:

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan is a sports betting writer who can tackle any topic from presidential elections to changes in the sports betting legislation federally and on the state level. He also writes picks for NFL.