As we all continue to mull the future of sports betting in Florida, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: Legal gambling in the Sunshine State may hinge on governor Ron DeSantis being voted out of office during the November 2022 elections.
To be sure, this is not yet a popular revelation. On the contrary, it was Ron DeSantis who negotiated the gaming compact with the Seminole tribe that gave them exclusive rights to sports betting in Florida and disallowed wagers from being placed elsewhere, including at other casinos and online. Would he really broker an agreement that legalizes a form of sports betting if he was dead set on holding it back? Obviously not.
But this isn't about DeSantis' stance on sports betting, per se. It's about how he's handled the issue to date. It's also about his challenger in the 2022 elections, Charlie Crist.
Confused? Curious? Both? We don't blame you. Let's unpack why Ron DeSantis is so far a key figure in the downfall of Florida sports betting.
Ron DeSantis Botched Gaming Compact Negotiations with the Seminole Tribe
The deal Ron DeSantis negotiated with the Seminole tribe looked great for Florida on the surface. In exchange for exclusive sports betting rights over the next 30 years, the Seminole tribe would pay $500 million annually to the Sunshine State. That's a lot of money. And it was all additional cash—funds Florida wasn't already receiving.
However, there were a few problems with the agreement from the start. Above all, Ron DeSantis knew that the gaming compact might be thrown out in court. He admitted as much just a few days before the repeal was made official back in November 2021, according to FloridaPolitics.com. And while he blamed the verdict on the federal government's lack of preparation for how to amend the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act, it was on him to broker a deal that wouldn't be flagged by the courts. Failing that, he at least needed to work in tandem with the federal government on a potential solution.
Instead of doing that, though, DeSantis simply pushed through the gaming compact outlined above. And now it looks like the Florida sports betting issue will reach the United States Supreme Court, a method of litigation that could take years. If DeSantis had simply communicated more closely and adequately with federal judges in the first place, it might have prevented in-person sports betting from ever going live, but it also would've kept the situation more fluid rather than bogging it down in this messy—and extremely public–battle between the Seminole tribe and the state's other tribes and larger commercial sportsbooks that want to crack the Florida market.
Somehow, someway, Ron DeSantis' failure on this front has flown under the radar. And only that, but he's actively made the debacle worse since helping create it in the first place.
Florida Sports Betting Needs a Stronger Free Market Advocate
When discussing the Florida sports betting issue, many get hung up on the Seminole tribe's insistence that their initial gaming compact remain intact. But really, they're well within their rights to assume this hard-line stance. Ron DeSantis agreed to a deal with them, and they want it enforced. That's not an unfair sentiment.
At any rate, it isn't only the Seminole tribe's stubborn refusal to concede exclusivity that's slowing down the sports betting mediation. It's the lack of support from the state government for compromise and a wider-open sports betting market. Officials throughout Florida generally aren't pushing for other tribal casinos, let alone corporate online sportsbooks, to be included in the state's existing or next piece of gambling legislature. In fact, it's just the opposite. The state has generally sided with the Seminole tribe, maintaining the belief that limiting sports betting to in-person transactions will ensure the state optimizes their revenue.
This is, subjectively, backwards logic.
First off, Florida isn't actually preventing online sports betting by refusing to legalize it. Floridians can sign up at one of the sites from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks and begin placing wagers immediately. They can also journey across state lines to submit bets elsewhere. In reality, Florida stands to make muuuuch more money if they allow domestic online sports betting and collect taxes from the operators.
Let's throw online sports betting out the window for a second, though. Look back at the gaming compact agreement between the Seminole tribe and Florida. The language within it suggests the $500 million fee the Seminoles would be assessed is a flat tax. This means they will pay that money whether they miss or beat their projected revenue. And that's a problem. Sports betting in Florida is expected to be a multi-billion venture, but Ron DeSantis' gaming compact with the Seminoles seems to cap the state's earning potential.
Can Charlie Crist Beat Ron DeSantis in 2022 Elections?
Proponents of Florida sports betting won't want to hear this, but we don't think Ron DeSantis is getting voted out of office.
His Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, will no doubt be more open to amending the current sports betting stance. But Florida historically skews all the way Republican.
Some believe it helps that Crist used to be a registered Republican himself. Couldn't he possibly sway conservatives to look at his docket? Perhaps. But it works both ways. There will be lifelong Democrats turned off by the idea of a former Republican headlining the liberal ballot, and those people may opt to vote for an independent party—or not vote at all. Both of those outcomes would help DeSantis, who is a heavy favorite to retain his post.
None of this is to say Florida will never get sports betting back, in any form, under Ron DeSantis. The battle for its legalization, however, does stand to last much longer if he remains the governor of the Sunshine State.
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