The most important sports law measure that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed in 2020 was a bill that gave college athletes in the state the right to use their advertising rights commercially. This law comes into force on July 1, 2021. Will Florida have a major sports law issue in 2021?
I believe the time has come for Florida lawmakers to finally pay serious attention to the promise of sports betting within their borders when they reunite. Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia allow individuals to place bets on sports competitions, and based on 2020 election results, it appears that Maryland, Nebraska, South Dakota, as well as most of the communities in Louisiana, are slated for the next package to come concerned with the benefits of sports betting, including an increase in taxpayers’ money for those jurisdictions that have made it legal to place such bets.
What got in the way of this type of change in Florida? No strange bedfellows but the Seminole tribe of Florida and Disney. At least some would argue about it.
A political action committee called Voters In Charge was very active in the run-up to the 2018 elections. This PAC raised just over $ 46 million from 2015 to 2018 when it appeared to have ceased operations due to a goal achieved. The two largest donors were the Seminole Tribe of Florida ($ 24.65 million) and Disney Worldwide Services Inc. ($ 20.56 million), behind which a company called No Casinos Inc. contributed $ 910,000 -Dollar stand. The next largest donor gave only $ 10,000.
Part of the underlying motive appears to have been to erect a major roadblock to the state of Florida that will legalize sports gambling. This was achieved by asking the state to adopt a constitutional amendment (Amendment 3). The amendment was titled “Voter Approval for the Casino Gambling Initiative” which was likely to be deliberately misleading to voters who often do not look beyond the title of an amendment. It should be designed so that only citizens (not lawmakers before voter approval) can decide whether to authorize gambling at the Florida casino. The responsible voters PAC led the campaign in support of Amendment 3, which received enough votes to pass.
As of 2018, many have wondered whether casino gambling, as used in the amendment, should include sports betting, which would make it harder for sports betting to be legalized in Florida, as it would only have to go to the polls then. The definition of casino gambling did not specifically include sports betting. Did the Florida and Disney Seminole Tribe inadvertently keep alive a much cleaner way of legalizing sports betting in the state in this way? I believe the answer is a resounding yes, and my colleague Daniel Wallach gave eight reasons why he agreed.
As such, nothing prevents an elected person or group of lawmakers from deciding that it is time to add Florida to the list of states that have wisely legalized sports betting within their borders. Florida Senator Wilton Simpson previously proposed a sports betting option that would allow the Florida Seminole tribe to host online sports betting, believing it would bypass Amendment 3 above. However, this seems unnecessary, given that Amendment 3 should do so, does not extend to control efforts related to sports betting.
There was also a bill (SB 968) sponsored by Florida Senator Jeff Brandes and filed in 2019, enacted in the Senate on January 14, 2020, and passed on March 14, 2020 on the Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee . The bill was intended to create a new Chapter 547 in the Florida Sports Betting Bylaws and place power in the hands of the Department of Lotteries to administer the chapter and regulate the industry in the state.
It’s time Florida joined Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, and Colorado to legalize sports betting. The state proved it could lead by giving college athletes the rights they deserve to their names, images, and similarities. The next sports law issue it should address is sports betting.
Darren Heitner is the founder of Heitner Legal. He is the author of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Lawyer Needs to Know, published by the American Bar Association, and is Associate Professor at Levin College of Law, University of Florida. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @DarrenHeitner.