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End of year review: The ever-changing odds of sports gambling in Florida

Sports gambling arrives! Oops, now it’s gone. (And maybe it will be back.) Also, a new football coach at Florida, state volleyball championships and some new trophies for the Rays.
For about three weeks in November, the Seminole Tribe had the exclusive rights to sports gambling in Florida. Then a judge shut it down. And now competing interests are trying to get Florida voters to expand sports betting even more in 2022.
For about three weeks in November, the Seminole Tribe had the exclusive rights to sports gambling in Florida. Then a judge shut it down. And now competing interests are trying to get Florida voters to expand sports betting even more in 2022. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 30, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — We have casinos and we have betting apps. We have deals with the Seminole Tribe and we have ravenous parimutuel sites. We have tons of gambling commercials and we have expensive campaigns for constitutional amendments underway.

What we do not have — checks for white smoke from the Florida Governor’s Mansion — is legalized sports betting in the state.

Oh, it was here for a while. For a little more than three weeks in November, to be precise. The Seminole Tribe had agreed to pay the state $2.5 billion over five years in exchange for creating online sports betting, as well as introducing roulette and craps games in their casinos.

The federal government signed off on the pact and Florida joined about two dozen other states in the sports gambling business, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the door in 2018.

There was just one small problem. Two, actually.

Related: End of year review in Tampa Bay: October ends early for the Rays

The Seminole gambling operation is supposed to be limited to tribal land. While their computer servers may have been located on that land, the app obviously was available everywhere.

Also, the state’s constitution had been amended in 2018 to put the expansion of casinos in Florida in the hands of voters. Adding sports betting, craps and roulette sounded like a form of expansion.

That’s why a federal district court judge put a halt to the Seminole pact on Nov. 23, effectively ending sports betting less than a month after it was launched.

Judge Dabney L. Friedrich said using the idea of computer servers on tribal land as justification for a statewide app was “fiction.”

So this was a victory for anti-gambling forces?

Well, yes and no.

Remember that constitutional amendment that put gambling expansion in the hands of voters? Now, there are several campaigns underway for a new amendment that would permit sports betting across the state. And when we say across the state, we’re not just talking about the Seminoles and their operation.

Related: End of year review: College football is here, but where are the Florida schools?

Online sports betting giants DraftKings and FanDuel are bankrolling the petition drives that are required to get the constitutional amendment on the ballot and in front of voters in 2022. (And they don’t have a lot of time to get the nearly-900,000 verified signatures required, which is why they already have coughed up tens of millions on the campaign.)

If this venture succeeds, legalized sports betting will actually loom even larger in Florida, and the governor will need to redo the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe because they’re not going to happily pay $500 million a year to the state if they no longer have exclusivity.

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That’s not complicated at all, is it?

Don’t feel too guilty if your eyes began to glaze over a few paragraphs ago. Sports betting in Florida may have been one of the biggest stories of 2021, but it will remain firmly entrenched in the headlines throughout 2022.

Hiding from reality is not a winning strategy

Dan Mullen prepares to lead Florida on the field at Missouri on Nov. 20. That would be his last game heading up the Gators.
Dan Mullen prepares to lead Florida on the field at Missouri on Nov. 20. That would be his last game heading up the Gators. [ L.G. PATTERSON | Associated Press ]

Florida coach Dan Mullen seemed to think it was a good idea to deflect questions about his less-than-impressive record of recruiting. “We’re in the season right now,” he said after losing to Georgia. “We’ll do recruiting after the season. When it gets to recruiting time, we can talk about recruiting. Okay? Next question.”

Turns out, UF administrators had questions of their own. A few weeks later, after losing to Missouri, Mullen was fired. “People look at losses as a cause to get rid of a coach,” athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “But a lot of times the losses … are symptoms of other issues.” A week later, the Gators hired Billy Napier as their new coach.

Guess who is buying drinks? (At least when he turns 21.)

Rays shortstop Wander Franco hugs owner Stuart Sternberg during a news conference on Nov. 29.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco hugs owner Stuart Sternberg during a news conference on Nov. 29. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

While the Rays have rarely chased big-money free agents, they have not been shy about opening their wallets for homegrown talent. Evan Longoria, James Shields, Matt Moore, Brandon Lowe and Blake Snell are just some of the players signed to long-term deals in Tampa Bay.

The biggest signing of all came in November when the Rays inked 20-year-old Wander Franco to a deal that guarantees him $182 million over 11 years. It is the richest contract given to an athlete in any sport in Tampa Bay.

Well, that was unfortunate timing

Rowdies players react after a 3-1 loss to Orange County SC in the USL Championship title game on Nov. 28.
Rowdies players react after a 3-1 loss to Orange County SC in the USL Championship title game on Nov. 28. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The Rowdies made their mark in 2021 with stellar defense. Then goaltender Evan Louro tore up his knee during a postgame celebration the week before the USL Championship title game. With Louro out of the lineup, the Rowdies gave up three first-half goals to Orange County on the way to a 3-1 loss.

Champa Bay still going strong in November

Minutes after the final point was fired down, Calvary Christian senior Noelle Walsh, holding phone, and teammates begin celebrating a 3-0 victory over Miami Westminster in the Class 3A state final.
Minutes after the final point was fired down, Calvary Christian senior Noelle Walsh, holding phone, and teammates begin celebrating a 3-0 victory over Miami Westminster in the Class 3A state final. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Calvary Christian didn’t have the lofty national ranking Miami Westminster had (No. 7 in the U.S.), but the Warriors had just as much heart and skill. And by the end of the night on Nov. 18, they had the Class 3A volleyball state title, too. Calvary Christian beat Westminster 25-21, 25-20, 25-21.

Plant, meanwhile, added to its impressive haul of state volleyball titles with a Class 7A championship victory against Windermere. Plant now has 11 state championships in volleyball, which is fourth best in Florida history.

There was plenty for Plant to celebrate after a 3-2 victory over Windermere in the Class 7A championship match .
There was plenty for Plant to celebrate after a 3-2 victory over Windermere in the Class 7A championship match . [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Taking the long route to the clubhouse

World No. 1 and Bradenton native Nelly Korda kisses the Pelican Women's Championship trophy after winning in a four-way playoff.
World No. 1 and Bradenton native Nelly Korda kisses the Pelican Women's Championship trophy after winning in a four-way playoff. [ BEN SOLOMON | Pelican Women’s Championship ]

It’s not often you can triple bogey the 71st hole of a golf tournament and come back to win. But, then again, there aren’t a lot of golfers like Nelly Korda.

The Bradenton native birdied the final hole to reclaim a share of the lead, then won the Pelican Women’s Championship on the first hole of a four-way playoff. It was her fourth victory of the season, the most by any American on the LPGA Tour in almost a decade.

Make room in those trophy cases

After a stellar season, the Rays' Randy Arozarena was named Rookie of the Year.
After a stellar season, the Rays' Randy Arozarena was named Rookie of the Year. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

As expected, Randy Arozarena was named the American League Rookie of the Year in November, making him the fourth Rays player to win the honor since 2008. Kevin Cash won his second straight Manager of the Year award, joining Hall of Famer Bobby Cox as the only back-to-back honorees.

On second thought

Ronald Jones reacts after rushing for a touchdown against the Colts on Nov. 28 in Indianapolis.
Ronald Jones reacts after rushing for a touchdown against the Colts on Nov. 28 in Indianapolis. [ MICHAEL CONROY | Associated Press ]

With Ronald Jones spending most of his Sundays on the bench behind Leonard Fournette, everyone wanted to know if the Bucs would deal him to Tennessee before the November trade deadline.

“It would have to be something really, really special,” head coach Bruce Arians said of a trade possibility. “It’s just one nick on Leonard and RoJo is the guy again.” Turns out, Arians was right. Fournette suffered a hamstring pull and Jones is back in the starting lineup.

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