As part of our Sound Off South Florida project, we’re taking reader-submitted questions and doing our best to provide an answer. We’ve already tackled all sorts of subjects — from why Florida doesn’t use more wind energy and where all the Florida Lottery money goes to why police aren’t doing more about texting and driving and how many untested rape kits they have in storage.
(If you’d like to submit a question, please fill out the form at the end of this story. We’d love to tackle the topics you’ve always wanted to know about life in South Florida.)
Recently, we received a question from reader Harold Cole, who wanted to know “why can I bet on horse racing in Florida, and not on an NFL game?”
There are a couple quick answers to that question. The first is, of course, that you can most certainly bet on an NFL game in Florida. You just can’t do so legally, and this keeps your friendly neighborhood bookie gainfully employed.
The second is that horse racing uses parimutuel betting, football does not. Parimutuel betting is legal in Florida — sports betting in general is not.
To quote state law, a parimutel is “a system of betting on races or games in which the winners divide the total amount bet, after deducting management expenses and taxes, in proportion to the sums they have wagered individually and with regard to the odds assigned to particular outcomes.”
Parimutuel betting only really works when there are a number of participants in the sport in question, with odds laid out on each participant — that’s why you see it in horse racing and greyhound racing, though not for long in the latter case — but not on sporting events featuring two teams facing off against each other. These sports normally offer fixed-odds betting that anyone who’s ever placed a bet on a football game should be familiar with.
But wait, what about jai alai, you ask. That’s a team sport. How come it gets away with parimutuel betting?
Jai alai games are usually played in a round-robin format with a multitude of teams, meaning there are more than two possible outcomes and odds can be placed on each. You’re not necessarily betting on who wins an individual jai alai point, but on who comes in first, second, third, etc. — the same way you would bet an exacta or trifecta in horse racing.
Parimutuel betting has been legal in Florida since way back in the Great Depression, when the state was desperate to squeeze some revenue from new sources. But we’ve never had a legal sports book. That, however, could be changing.
Back in May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that banned sports betting in most states. The gambling industry started popping champagne, but then came November, when Floridians passed Amendment 3, which required voter approval for almost any expansion of gambling in Florida. All that champagne started looking mighty premature.
But again, there’s more to the story. Amendment 3 only requires voter approval for expansion of “casino gambling.” Whether sports betting qualifies as “casino gambling” is a bit of a gray area. The amendment defines the phrase as “any of the types of games typically found in casinos and that are within the definition of Class III gaming in the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.” A sports book could arguably fall outside that definition.
In response to the Supreme Court decision, the Florida Legislature is currently looking at allowing sports betting in Florida. The issue is being looked at by staff members of the Senate Committee on Innovation, Industry and Technology. That committee is chaired by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who will likely be Senate President in 2021 and who therefore carries cartons full of clout. (Side note: The use of “cartons” here is a bit of an inside joke; one of Simpson’s biggest business interests is an egg farm.)
While it’s possible that the committee could try to define sports betting as outside the purview of Amendment 3 and just try to legalize it legislatively, that could set up an ugly court fight with the backers of Amendment 3, who include the vastly deep-pocketed Seminole Tribe and the brain-dashingly deep-pocketed Disney. It’s more likely the Senate bill will propose a sports betting amendment for voter approval, though either way is a possibility and we won’t know for certain until a bill has been filed.
According to Katie Betta, a spokesperson for current Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, draft legislation should be coming out in “mid-to-late February, prior to the start of the 2019 session,” which begins in March.
After that, it would still have to pass the Senate and the House, which has traditionally been far more anti-gambling than the Senate.
So there you have it — you can’t bet legally on this year’s Super Bowl because football is not parimutuel betting. But as for next year’s Super Bowl, who knows?