9 Investigates

Florida general fund losing $350 million a year in gambling revenue; could sports betting hold the answer?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — For more than a year, the state of Florida has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in shared gambling revenue. Now lawmakers are going all in trying to find a solution.

It’s a problem that began after a federal court determined Florida violated a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe, which allowed the tribe to stop its payments of roughly $350 million a year to the state.

In Tallahassee, lawmakers are now trying to shore up the budget and get a new agreement worked out. Channel 9 reporter Steve Barrett learned the new agreement might include legalized sports betting.

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The issue all started because the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering started allowing certain games, like blackjack, in card rooms. A federal judge then ruled those games violate Florida's gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe.

“The state violated the agreement with the tribe that gave them exclusivity for blackjack banked card games by letting a similar game be played at dog tracks, horse tracks and jai a’lai frontons around the state,” said John Sowinski, the president of nocasinos.org

In frustration, last year the Seminole Tribe stopped paying the state for the exclusive rights to certain card games.

“The deepest irony is that the state makes at best $8 million a year on those card games, which violate the agreement with the tribe, and it costs the state $350 million in order to get that $8 million,” Sowinski said.

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But with stakes high, the state is at a stalemate with the Tribe, and losing tens of millions of dollars each month.

Now a new player at the table might help push the two sides closer together.

The sports betting industry wants its chips on the table in Florida in a big way, and, lawmakers might capitalize on that, offering the Seminole Tribe new exclusivity at brick-and-mortar casinos in the sports betting market. That would be in exchange for a restart of negotiations over the contract.

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A growing list of bills are already being floated during the current legislative session, and in the coming week or even days could meld into one comprehensive new agreement.

Steve Barrett

Steve Barrett, WFTV.com

Reporter Steve Barrett returned to WFTV in mid-2017 after 18 months in the Twin Cities, where he worked as Vice President of Communications for an Artificial Intelligence software firm aligned with IBM.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.