Florida legislature’s attempt to expand gambling in the state faces local, federal obstacles

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Nine bills were filed in Tallahassee Friday intended to help implement the state’s expansion of gambling.

Among other changes, the expansion would bring online sports betting to Florida.

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However, state lawmakers say federal laws could present a challenge to what they’re trying to do.

In April, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the first new compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida in more than a decade.

The bills introduced in the state senate and house are all designed to implement the deal.

They would create a gaming control commission, expand the table games offered by the Seminole Tribe, and clear the way for new casinos in South Florida.

“There are a lot of questions about where the locations of the gambling is going to be, how it’s going to be conducted,” University of Central Florida Political Science professor John Hanley says.

He points to legal language that could allow south Florida pari-mutuels- but not Central Florida pari-mutuels- to relocate some of their games.

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However, Hanley says there could also be a split among lawmakers about the moral implications of expanding gambling.

“There are divisions among conservatives on the social cost of gambling versus the enterprise,” Hanley says.

Federal law could also present a challenge.

One of the bills introduced Friday aims to set up online sports betting, allowing people to place bets on their phones or computers anywhere in the state, as long as the servers are on tribal land.

John Sowinski of “No Casinos in Florida,” which opposes the expansion, says the bills are likely headed to court.

Sowinski points to the federal “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act,” which states that gambling can’t be done off tribal property.

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He argues simply putting servers on tribal land is not a way around the state law, which dictates that all expansions of gambling off tribal lands be decided by voters, not the legislature.

“Here is the deepest irony is that Florida taxpayers are going to have to pay to defend the state for a matter where the state is defying what voters asked for in the first place in 2018,” Sowinski says.

The five-day legislative session starts next Monday.