The Seminole Tribe of Florida on Monday dismissed a sports betting initiative backed by DraftKings and FanDuel as a “Hail Mary” from “interfering” out-of-state corporations.
The two online betting giants are bankrolling a petition drive that aims to legalize sports wagering via a state constitutional amendment. The initiative needs 891,589 signatures from registered state voters to be placed on the ballot in 2022.
The powerful Seminoles currently enjoy a monopoly on casino gaming in Florida at their seven Hard Rock casinos. They want that to extend to sports betting, too. The tribe recently signed a “historic” compact with the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, giving them exclusive rights to operate sportsbooks as well as craps and roulette.
In return, the tribe will share a minimum of $500 million per year with the state, a sum that increases in proportion with profits. It’s the biggest casino revenue-share deal in US history, and it’s currently awaiting sign-off by the US Department of the Interior.
The Governor’s Office says the deal doesn’t amount to legalizing sports betting in Florida. The Seminoles will be providing online betting to Florida residents legally because betting is occurring through their servers, which will be based on their sovereign territories.
That argument will be challenged in court. In 2018, voters passed a constitutional amendment, Amendment 3, that requires voter approval of all proposed casino gambling expansion in the state. Ironically, the amendment was backed by the Seminoles, who believed it would safeguard their monopoly.
Now it will be used against them by anti-gambling campaigners, and the question of “where” a bet takes place when it is conducted online will be a key question for the courts to consider.
The Governor’s Office also argues that sports betting does not constitute “casino gambling,” as described in Amendment 3, another one for the courts.
DraftKings and FanDuel hope Florida’s voters will make all this moot by legalizing sports betting at the ballot box and wresting it away from Seminole control.
The initiative is being spearheaded by a newly formed campaign committee, Florida Education Champions (FEC). As its name suggests, it promises to ensure “substantial revenue” from legalized sports betting goes to funding the state’s public education system “without raising taxes.”
It said Friday it would begin collecting signatures “immediately.”
Seminole Gaming spokesman Gary Bitner said in a statement the tribe would fight the FEC initiative all the way.
“They couldn’t stop Florida’s new gaming compact, which passed by an overwhelming 88 percent ‘yes’ vote from Florida’s elected legislators, and enjoys 3-1 support from Floridians and guarantees $2.5 billion in revenue sharing,” he said. “The guarantee is the largest commitment by any gaming company in US history.”
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