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Florida lawmakers approved legalized sports betting. Now what?

Can you bet on the Bucs? What about the Gators or Seminoles? And why is this happening now?
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, on Thursday, April 22, 2021, at 5223 Orient Rd, in Tampa.
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, on Thursday, April 22, 2021, at 5223 Orient Rd, in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 20, 2021|Updated May 21, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Confused about the whirlwind of activity in Tallahassee this week?

State lawmakers spent just three days debating and voting on a number of bills to reshape Florida’s gambling landscape, and observers and advocates are still processing.

By far the biggest change is the expansion of sports betting in Florida — now the largest state in the nation to offer sports betting.

Here’s what we know — and some of what we don’t — about what sports betting will look like in the Sunshine State:

Is sports betting in Florida really happening?

Yes — so far. Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature this week approved a new deal with the Seminole Tribe that would give the Tribe exclusive rights to sports betting, including the ability to make bets from your phone anywhere within the state, for the next 30 years.

Would I really able to bet on games from my phone, on my couch?

Possibly. The deal with the Seminole Tribe would allow you to bet from your phone if you’re physically located in Florida.

However, this is a legal gray area. Amendment 3, passed by voters in 2018, said that any expansion of gambling must be approved by voters — unless those new games are on Tribe properties.

If you can bet on sports anywhere in the state, but those bets happen on servers on Tribe properties, is that a violation of Amendment 3? Even the Tribe isn’t sure. The backers of Amendment 3 say they’ll sue, and everyone expects a judge, or judges, to ultimately decide.

What happens if a judge says ‘no’?

It’s highly unlikely a judge would reject sports betting outright. So even if a judge says you can’t bet on your phone from your couch, you would still be allowed to go to a Hard Rock property or race track to place wagers.

Ok, so when is the soonest I could bet on a game?

Oct. 15 is the earliest possible date, according to the deal signed with the Seminole Tribe.

Could I bet on the Rays or Bucs?

Yes. You would be allowed to bet on Florida-based professional teams.

What about betting on the Florida Gators or Florida State Seminoles?

Yes. Although some states don’t allow betting on in-state college teams, Florida’s new deal allows it.

However, you wouldn’t be allowed to make “prop” bets on college sports. (See the explanation of “prop” bets below.)

What about betting on other sports, like NASCAR or the Olympics?

Yes, you would be allowed to bet on those and international events.

What about “prop” bets?

Yes, “prop” bets are allowed — except on college sports.

Um, what’s a “prop” bet?

Short for “proposition” bet, those are the bets on things that are not on the specific outcome of a sporting event. Instead of simply betting on which team will win, or the total number of points scored in a game, these are wagers on things like how many yards Tom Brady will throw for next season, or whether the Bucs will have more wins than the Jaguars.

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“Prop” bets are popular during the Super Bowl and often include wagers on random events, such as which team will win the coin toss, which player will score the first touchdown or how long the national anthem will last.

Could I bet on games while they’re happening?

Yes. The agreement with the Tribe allows for “in-play” wagering.

Who would be allowed to place bets?

Anyone 21 years of age or older.

Where would I place a bet?

At a Seminole or Hard Rock casino, a racetrack or jai alai fronton or on an any smartphone app offered by those sites. Those apps have yet to be released, but you can get a glimpse of what the app might look like here.

So could I just download an app and place bets?

That’s not clear — the Tribe couldn’t provide details on this yet. But in Nevada, for example, you have to go into a casino to verify your age to set up sports betting on your phone.

Could I use a credit card to place a bet?

That’s also not clear. The Tribe couldn’t say yet. In Nevada, you have to deposit money into your account, then use the money in that account to place bets.

Are there any other changes to gambling in Florida?

The new deal allows Seminole Tribe properties to now offer craps and roulette. It allows the Tribe to build three more casinos on tribal property in Broward County. And lawmakers also created a new Gaming Control Commission and law enforcement arm to police non-Tribe gaming.

Why are these changes happening now?

Florida’s last agreement with the Seminole Tribe was signed in 2010 and gave the Tribe exclusive gambling rights, including the ability to offer “banked” card games — card games where people bet against the house, like blackjack. (The deal did not include sports betting.)

In exchange for those exclusive rights, the Tribe agreed to share revenue with the state. That was about $350 million annually until 2019, when the Tribe stopped payments because it said the state wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain.

The Tribe said that parimutuels, such as horse tracks and jai-alai frontons, were offering different “banked” card games, against the terms of the agreement, and the state didn’t take any action to stop them.

Why does the state need a deal with the Seminole Tribe in the first place? Can’t the Tribe do what they want?

The Tribe is indeed a sovereign nation, and under federal law, it can offer bingo and non-banked card games, such as poker, without any agreement with the state.

To offer other games, such as blackjack or slot machines, federal law requires the Tribe reach an agreement with the state, known as a “compact.” This new deal will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of the Interior over the next few months.

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story.

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