Florida fantasy sports bill dead for 2021

by | May 18, 2021

(The Center Square) – The Florida Senate Tuesday adopted a bill creating a state gaming commission but legislation seeking to legalize fantasy sports gaming is dead for the year.

Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, announced Tuesday he was withdrawing Senate Bill 16A, the proposed Fantasy Sports Contest Amusement Act, from special session consideration and would reintroduce it in 2022.

SB 16A’s House companion, House Bill 9A, filed by Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Plant City, is also dead, said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who chairs the House Select Committee on Gaming.

The bills were withdrawn after DraftKings and FanDuel, the nation’s two largest fantasy sports companies who say 3 million Floridians already patronize their sites, said they oppose several provisions in the proposed law.

Under the bills, fantasy sports operators would pay the state an initial license fee of $1 million and an annual license renewal fee of $250,000. Tomkow’s House version requires companies also pay $1 per contest participant.

DraftKings, FanDuel and other fantasy sports operators object to provisions limiting fantasy sports contests to the performance of seven individual athletes who play in at least five separate actual team events, and banning winning outcomes from college fantasy sports contests.

“It’s ironic that the other bills being offered on sports betting allow you to bet on college sports but this bill will not allow you to bet on fantasy sports on college sports,” Scott Ward, a lobbyist representing both companies, told the House Select Subcommittee on Authorized Gaming Activity Monday.

“Twenty-four states so far across the United States have passed fantasy sports regulation bills. Zero of those bills have this provision,” he added. “This provision would probably knock out 60% to 70% of the contests that are currently offered in the state of Florida.”

With the Seminoles backing down on their plans to offer casino-style gaming online and the demise of the ‘Fantasy Sports Contest Amusement Act,’ some of the more ambitious aims of the gaming special session have fallen to the wayside.

After two years of stalemate, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribal Council Chair Marcellus Osceola, Jr., signed a 75-page pact on April 23 that stipulates the Seminoles pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the 30-year deal’s first five years.

Under the pact, the tribe would be granted exclusive control of blackjack and craps at its seven casinos, as well as sports betting – a $2 billion market in Florida by 2025, according to 2019 projections by Morgan Stanley – on its properties and at non-tribal pari-mutuels via its new Hard Rock Digital platform.

That pact is encapsulated in SB 2A, which lawmakers are set to approve Wednesday when the scheduled three-day special session concludes.

On Tuesday, the Senate did advance one significant gaming-related bill, SB 4A, establishing the state’s first-ever gaming commission.

Under SB 4A, adopted in a 26-13 vote, the Florida Gaming Control Commission would operate within the Attorney General Office’s Department of Legal Affairs.

Members of the five-member commission would be appointed to four-year terms by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Each member would make $136,000 per year.

Hutson, who sponsored all nine Senate special session bills, amended SB 4A to lift a prohibition banning elected officials from serving on the commission for two years after leaving office.

Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, objected to the amendment, which was adopted.

Brandes called the amendment a “legislative retirement package,” asking, “Shouldn’t we at least have a little distance? Shouldn’t we have a little space between Sine Die and a job that could last for 12 years and get paid $140,000 a year?”


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