Might Florida Lawmakers Still Legalize Sports Betting?

Ballot box with Florida state flag in background

There will be no recount for Florida’s Amendment 3, but lawmakers might still find a way to legalize sports betting without voter consent. This amendment was passed, giving the public the power to decide on the future expansion of gambling in the state.

Just as with any election, there needs to be a careful examination of the votes to ensure that it’s a fair result. If a voting result is particularly close, there will often be a recount to double check the result.

Amendment 3 needed at least 60% of the vote to pass and won overwhelmingly by capturing more than 70%. Many believe this means that the public will decide on future gambling law expansion in the state. However, some feel that this does not include potential sports betting laws.

Lead up to the vote

One of the main drivers of this amendment was the possibility of sports betting legalization. Many of those in favor of the amendment pushed the sports betting aspect as a key part of their agenda.

Disney donated more than $20m (£15.6m) to try and get the public to vote for it. The Seminole Tribe, which owns large casinos in the state, also backed this cause. They do not want their current operations to suffer as a result of gambling expansion in the state, which would lead to more competition and therefore lower their revenues. The Seminole Tribe donated more than $24m (£18.7m).

One of the main opposition groups for this amendment is the Citizens for the Truth about Amendment 3. They believe that the Seminole Tribe‘s donations “are all self-serving.” The chair for this group went on to say that: “The Seminole Tribe of Florida is trying to buy a monopoly.”

A spokesperson for Disney, Jacquee Wahler, rebutted these claims by saying that the passing of this amendment would put the power back into the hands of the public. She said it would also maintain Florida’s reputation of being a family-friendly state.

The groups in opposition to this motion raised only about $9m (£7m). Among those who opposed the amendment were two of the state’s NFL teams, the Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

While neither of these teams has made public comments on the issue, each gave $500,000 to the Citizens for the Truth about Amendment 3 group.

Sports betting not part of it?

If you go through the fine print of Amendment 3, some interesting questions arise. The proposal defines casino gambling in a rigorous way that does not include sports betting.

Their definition of casino gambling is (1) “any of the types of games typically found in casinos”; and (2) games that are within the definition of “Class III” gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Sports betting is not typically found in a casino. Casino gambling is legal 40 states, but only six of these states allow sports betting in their casinos.

There are more than 500 tribal casinos across the nation and only three of them currently offer sports betting. Therefore, it is fairly clear that sports betting is not typically found at tribal or regular casinos in the United States.

Lack of clear notice

There is no mention of sports betting in the ballot title or in the amendment’s text. Also, as per state law, voters have to be given fair notice about what they are voting on through the use of “clear and unambiguous language.”

The ballot does not have this clear language when it comes to sports betting. Most people are not going to know whether or not sports betting is a typical casino offering in the country. A list of examples of casino games was included on the ballot, none of which clearly relates to sports betting.

These were: “(1) any house banking game, including but not limited to card games such as baccarat, blackjack… (2) any player-banked game that simulates a house banking game, such as California blackjack; casino games such as roulette, craps, and keno (3) slot machines; and (4) any other game in which outcomes are determined by a random number generator or are similarly assigned randomly, such as historical or instant racing.”

What does this all mean?

Since there is no mention of sports betting in the amendment and the specific definition provided for casino gambling or the games typically found in casinos, voters in Florida did not have “fair notice” that sports betting is part of the scope of this amendment.

Therefore, it appears that lawmakers in the state could still legalize sports betting without needing the consent of the voters. This will likely be closely looked at, and it will be an interesting issue to watch into the future.

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