Florida Lawmaker Brandes Reintroduces Sports Betting Bills, Eyes 2021 Legalization

Posted on: December 29, 2020, 09:22h. 

Last updated on: December 29, 2020, 10:20h.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-FL) introduced a package of sports betting legislation on Monday, marking his second such attempt on the matter in just over a year.

Florida sports betting
Florida State Sen. Jeff Brandes. He’s again trying sports betting legislation. (Image: Colin Hackley/Florida Politics)

Brandes pre-filed three bills — Senate Bill 392 (SB 392), SB 394 and SB 396 — for Florida’s 2021 legislative session, which commences in March. Similar legislation was pitched by the state senator in late 2019. But it didn’t see the light of day in the 2020 session because this was an election year and lawmakers were reluctant to take up potentially contentious issues.

SB 392 outlines who is and isn’t eligible to participate in sports betting in the Sunshine State, licensing requirements and fees, the role of the Department of Lottery, and other matters.

Authorizing certain persons to place wagers on a sports event under certain circumstances; providing duties and responsibilities of the Department of the Lottery relating to sports pools; authorizing persons to apply to the department for a license to operate a sports pool; authorizing a licensee to have certain websites and applications under certain circumstances; requiring the department and licensees to adopt certain procedures to prevent certain persons from wagering; providing for the disbursement of unclaimed winnings, etc.,” according to a portion of the bill.

In 2019, State Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-FL), now president of the senate, worked on a bill with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the state’s dominant tribal gaming operator, that would have allowed for sports wagering at the Seminoles’ casinos and at pari-mutuel establishments. But that legislation didn’t advance.

Debate Could Get Testy

Assuming the Brandes legislation can get to the floor for debate, there are still no guarantees sports betting will come to life in the Sunshine State.

In 2018, voters there overwhelmingly passed the Amendment 3 ballot initiative, putting the matter of casino gaming expansion in voters’ hands. The proposition passed so easily, garnering 71 percent support, that it’s now part of the state constitution. Some experts say that, in Florida, sports betting falls under the definition of casino gaming, meaning the issue can’t be legislated and that voters are the ultimate determiners of whether it happens or not.

Then there’s the potential for commercial and tribal operators to butt heads. While the Seminole Tribe, under the Hard Rock brand, controls Florida’s biggest casinos, commercial entities have some exposure in the state.

For example, Caesars Entertainment operates the Isle Casino, a racino in Pompano Park, and would almost certainly want a piece of the Florida sports wagering pie. Billionaire businessman Phil Ruffin, who controls Treasure Island on the Las Vegas Strip, owns Casino Miami.

Florida: One of the Golden Geese

While regulated sports wagering is proliferating across the country, the sacred cows remains California, Texas, and Florida, the three largest states by population.

For its part, the Sunshine State is an alluring market because it’s home to about 21.5 million residents, and that tally is growing. Additionally, the state has nine professional franchises across the four major domestic sports, and robust offerings for bettors that enjoy local college sports via Florida State, Miami University, and the University of Florida, as well as a slew of Group of Five schools.

In SB 394, one of Brandes’s companion bills to SB 392, the senator proposes a tax rate of 15 percent on what operators hold after sports betting winnings are paid out to bettors. At that level, Florida matches Illinois and is below the 20 percent levy in Tennessee.