Backers of the Florida sports betting initiative expect to have the necessary signatures needed from state residents to force a ballot referendum on the expanded gaming topic in 2022.
Legal sports betting was short-lived in Florida after a federal judge in November tossed out a revised gaming compact reached between the Seminole Tribe and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). The modified Class III tribal gaming agreement gave the powerful Seminoles and their six land-based casinos the exclusive rights to land-based and online sports betting.
DC District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the US Interior Department erred in approving the new Seminole gaming compact. In addition to sports betting, the updated compact sought to allow the Seminoles to add roulette and dice games to their gaming repertoire.
Friedrich took issue with DeSantis and the state allowing the tribe to conduct mobile sports betting so long as the computer servers facilitating the online sportsbooks were located on tribal sovereign land. The federal judge concluded that allowing bettors to wager anywhere in the state violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
The Seminoles have appealed the decision to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
People in Control
Another legal concern regarding DeSantis and the Seminoles’ efforts to give the tribe exclusive rights to sports betting is the Florida Constitution.
Florida voters in 2018 passed a constitutional amendment that gives the people “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.” The Voter Control of Gambling Amendment necessitates that a supermajority of voters sign off on any legislative effort to legalize commercial casinos.
The constitutional amendment additionally grants only Floridians the power to decide whether to expand gambling in the state. That includes new games, including sports betting, in tribal casinos.
This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida. ‘Casino gambling’ means any of the types of games typically found in casinos and that are within the definition of Class III gaming in the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” the amendment states.
Florida Education Champions, a political action committee, is leading a campaign to ask voters in 2022 if they wish to legalize sports betting for the Seminoles, but also for parimutuel facilities and professional sports venues.
Florida Education Champions is responsible for Initiative 21-13, which seeks to authorize sports betting and event betting. Campaign spokesperson Christina Johnson explains that they expect to collect the necessary 891,589 signatures to force the ballot question.
“We are confident we will have enough signatures to meet the February 1, 2022, deadline,” Johnson revealed.
However, Johnson concedes that the group has less than one-third of the required signatures validated so far. The Florida Department of State says 247,680 signatures have been validated. Johnson clarifies that the organization has a boatload of signatures that are waiting to be verified by state officials.
If the initiative moves to the polls and obtains a 60 percent supermajority, sports betting will become legal in Florida. The initiative requires that tax revenue generated from sports gambling be allocated for public education.
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