Floridians can legally bet on their 1st NFL game Thursday night

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images) (Nick Laham, 2012 Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE – For the first time, Floridians will be able to place legal sports bets on an NFL game Thursday night following the launch of the Seminole Tribe’s new sports betting app.

The Seminole Tribe’s app is the only legal avenue for Floridians to gamble on sports, but that monopoly could be short lived if a citizen initiative makes it on the ballot and is approved by voters next year.

The Hard Rock SportsBook app’s launch brings the $500 million-a-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe into full effect.

Sports betting makes up $50 million of the deal.

“It’s great to finally see all that work finally come to fruition,” said State Rep. Randy Fine.

Fine led the House’s efforts to approve the compact. He hopes the app launch will drive betters out of the black market.

“A lot of people don’t want to break the law, and also, people have concerns about the legitimacy of the game,” said Fine.

But others, like Sen. Jeff Brandes, predict the Tribe’s monopoly on sports betting will have the opposite effect.

“What you’re going to find is certain people not wanting to place sports bets through this way, so they’re gonna use illegal apps,” said Brandes.

But backers of a citizen initiative aimed at fully legalizing sports betting in Florida have said they’ve already gathered almost half of the nearly 900,000 signatures required to make the 2022 ballot.

It’s no surprise the Seminole Tribe is pushing back.

It has released a second attack ad in three weeks urging voters not to sign the petitions.

“Because we already have a plan that’s working for us,” says a man featured in the ad.

If the amendment makes the ballot, voters will get to decide whether to keep sports betting in the hands of the tribe or allow other companies like FanDuel and DraftKings to enter the Florida market.

The sports betting initiative, if approved by 60% of voters, allows the Legislature to tax sports betting. Those revenues would have to be spent on education.

Fine said no matter what voters decide, the state will still cash in on at least $450 million a year through the compact.

“So we’re still in a much, much better place than we were before the compact passed,” said Fine.

And even if the sports betting market is opened up, the Seminole Tribe can still participate. They’ll just have to share the profits with competitors.