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The Odds Are Good, But the Goods Are Odd: Sports Betting in Florida

By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

Do you like sports? Do you enjoy gambling? Are you willing to spend your hard-earned money on a trip to Florida that doesn't involve a trip to Disney World? Well, mark your calendar and tell your family they're on their own for the holiday season, because Florida's about to make your sports gambling-themed dreams come true. That's right, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has announced that it'll be bringing in-person sports betting to its Florida casinos this December, just in time to bet on whatever sports are happening in December. They are also offering mobile betting to a select group of Floridians, but whether you can legally use their app in the future to bet online depends on where you live and what happens with ongoing litigation in Florida courts.

Sports gambling occupies a strange position in American life. It's been legal, illegal, and both at the same time. Some states have legalized it regardless of the federal government's position while others have enshrined and enhanced the federal prohibitions with their own state-level laws banning the practice. Legalized sports gambling is a fairly recent phenomenon, though it's been moving about as quickly as legalization movements can.

You may have already gambled in Florida. In many states, Native American tribes run casinos on tribal lands (we don't need to get into the law on that now, fortunately). Suffice it to say that this is the case in Florida, where the Seminole Tribe operates all casino gambling. In 2021, Florida signed an agreement with the Seminole Tribe to allow sports betting. However, groups challenged "the Compact" (as it is known in Florida) because of concerns that the deal gives the Seminole Tribe a monopoly on sports betting throughout the state through its online app, which can be accessed from anywhere in the state. Florida also passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that prohibits the state from expanding gambling without voter approval. Both federal courts and Florida state courts have issued mixed rulings on the Compact's legality.

It's understandable if you're confused. The important point is that due to legal challenges, the Seminole Tribe had to put in-person sports betting on hold for the last two years.

How'd We Get Here?

One could argue that people have been betting on the outcome of games for as long as games have existed. Humans love guessing at the outcomes of things, we love to be right, and we really love getting rewarded for being right. Add in the fact that sports are games of skill, not chance, and that a savvy gambler could theoretically predict the outcome of sporting events with some degree of accuracy, and you've got a recipe for a popular form of gambling.

Official sports gambling has had its legal ups and downs in the centuries since America was founded. Much like other types of gambling, it became the target of various regressive activist groups several times over the years. Also like other types of gambling, sports betting eventually found its home in Las Vegas, though its popularity was hampered by high taxes. Most sports gambling in the rest of the country took place outside of legal casinos and was often controlled or run by organized crime.

Then-U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy started pushing Congress to fight against illegal sports betting in the 1960s. The laws, like many prohibitions, didn't have much of an effect on the underground industry. It took until the early 1990s for a piece of legislation that had a measurable effect on the industry: the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

PASPA

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 put major restrictions on most kinds of sports betting. Nevada was mostly exempt, of course, and there were a few carveouts for sports lotteries in Oregon, Delaware, and Montana. The Act also contained provisions to allow betting on pari-mutuel horse racing, dog racing, and, weirdly enough, jai alai (the question of why PASPA allowed betting on jai alai and not other sports weighs heavily on at least this writer's mind, but that's for another time).

PASPA remained the law of the land until it was overturned by a 2018 Supreme Court decision. In Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Court held that PAPSA violated the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 10th Amendment reserves all government powers not named in the Constitution to the states. SCOTUS held that PAPSA was essentially an act of commandeering by the federal government in that it prevented states from modifying their own laws and put the enforcement of federal laws onto the states.

This fairly narrow, technical victory put an end to PASPA – and may pave the way for similar arguments for the legalization of marijuana in the future.

Place Your Bets

The bottom line is that thanks to the repeal of PASPA and a separate SCOTUS decision reaffirming the Seminole Compact with Florida, in-person sports betting will begin in December at a few casinos owned and operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. It's hard to say if or when the Tribe will begin offering online betting to the public, though it's likely the Seminole Tribe will be eager to roll it out if courts allow.

The question is still out whether or not this development will make Florida a major gaming destination. Anyone want to place a bet?

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