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Betting on sports in Florida just got as easy as ordering a pizza

John Romano | The Seminole Tribe’s stealth launch of a gambling app could have a dramatic effect on the state’s economy.
You don't have to go to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa to place a legal bet on a football or hockey game. Heck, you don't have to leave your living room with the tribe's new sports betting app that was unveiled on Monday.
You don't have to go to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa to place a legal bet on a football or hockey game. Heck, you don't have to leave your living room with the tribe's new sports betting app that was unveiled on Monday. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Nov. 2

ST. PETERSBURG — The casino is now open. All day, every day, on your phone.

You want to bet on a Lightning game? That’s totally legit today. You like the odds of the Bucs winning back-to-back Super Bowls? Just download the app. You want to put some money down on a Korean baseball game or a Premier League soccer game? You can do that while stopped at a traffic light.

Life in Florida changed this week, and I’m not yet sure if that’s hyperbole or an understatement. But if you care about sports and you have a credit card, this could be a seismic moment.

Gambling on sporting events in Florida just went from being illegal to being as easy as ordering a pizza.

Without confetti or conversation, the Seminole Tribe unveiled its online sports betting program for Florida residents on Monday. No more bookies, flights to Vegas, or hiding from the cops. All kinds of bets are literally at your fingertips if you have a smart phone and a little derring-do in your soul.

Just one caveat: It could be blocked by Friday.

While the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for states to legalize sports gambling in 2018 — and Florida was slower to act than most — there are still legal challenges ahead.

Parimutuel owners in South Florida will argue in a federal court later this week that the Seminole Tribe’s online plan is invalid. That case is one of several that challenge the notion of whether routing online wagers thru Seminole computers is equivalent to betting on tribal land. There are also complaints that the state’s deal with the Seminoles violates a constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters in 2018 that regulates gambling expansion in Florida.

Legal distinctions aside, this could have a dramatic economic impact in the state.

Florida immediately jumps to the top of the list of the most populous states with legalized sports gambling. And, if you don’t think there’s an appetite for online betting around here, I think you’re going to be in for a shock. The state is guaranteed $2.5 billion in payments over the next five years from the Seminoles (which also includes craps and roulette expansion), and that gives you a clue of how lucrative everyone expects this to be.

New Jersey has already surpassed Nevada in terms of online wagering for sports, handling more than $750 million in bets in a single month this summer, according to industry reports.

It wasn’t that long ago that Major League Baseball and the NFL treated gambling like a plague, but they now have partnership deals with casinos and daily fantasy sportsbooks. If you watched the World Series for more than 30 minutes, you saw in-game programming designed to whet the appetite of gamblers.

And that’s just the beginning.

The potential of gambling sites to do sponsorship deals, or even naming rights for stadiums, could provide teams with a sizable influx of cash. Earlier this year, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed a deal with Caesars Entertainment to develop a sportsbook, a bar and a broadcast studio adjacent to the team’s stadium in Phoenix.

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Can that happen around here?

It’s certainly within the realm of possibility. The Hard Rock already has a sponsorship with the Rays, and legalized sports betting would seem to provide additional synergy.

The question is whether the Seminoles will feel the need to invest more in local pro teams and stadiums. Because their deal with the state provides them with a virtual monopoly — other than some state-required side deals with parimutuel sites to provide additional on-site sports betting — there’s not a lot of incentive to invest in stadium ventures.

Maybe a virtual sportsbook/restaurant/bar in a new baseball stadium could increase betting volume, but will it be enough to justify the tribe’s investment?

In a way, a sports betting app is tailor-made for this state. Florida is big enough to have nine professional franchises in the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB, but the state also has a largely indifferent population when it comes to attendance in stadiums and arenas. We tend to follow our teams from the living room more than the bleachers.

And now, the Seminoles can reach those fans without asking them to get out of the La-Z-Boy.

Which brings us to a second caveat:

Betting on a game is easy to do. Ridiculously easy. For some, maybe frighteningly easy.

All it takes, basically, is a credit card or PayPal to transfer money to a Hard Rock account, the last four digits of your social security number to verify your identity, and enabling location services on your phone to prove that you are, indeed, in Florida while making a wager.

Within minutes of reading a story about Hard Rock’s stealth rollout of digital wagering, I had downloaded the app, set up an account, and bet $20 on the Monday Night Football game that was about to start. Three hours later, I was $20 poorer.

Depending on your point of view, that could either sound disturbing or irresistible.

In Florida, I have a feeling it’s going to be both.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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