top story

Don't expect Florida to approve sports betting anytime soon

SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Jaquan Cathey is looking forward to a busy, and hopefully, lucrative fall.

"This upcoming football season, I plan on betting $500-$1000 a week gambling," says Cathey.

He does his gambling right from his laptop, where he also writes his own sports blog from home in Brandon, FL.

"There's no better thing in life, I think, than making money off of what you love," he says about gambling on sports.

However, no one in Florida is making money off Cathey. His bets are made online through a casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, where betting on sports is legal.

"It's essentially a handshake deal," Cathey explains. "You have to trust that casino to give you the money."

Feel a bit shady? Cathey feels it too, especially when his deposits are processed through international banks. Then, his winnings can come back one, sometimes even four weeks later as foreign checks.

It's all an effort to navigate the laws, though it also discourages Cathey from cashing out.

"If it was as instant as they took it out of my account, yes definitely that would change for me," he says.

Perhaps it could be if Florida decides to legalize sports betting.

Since 1992, federal law has prohibited most states outside of Nevada from allowing sports betting, but the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled the law unconstitutional, meaning states can now authorize sports gambling.

Local state representative Joe Gruters would support such a move, unlike, perhaps, the majority of his colleagues.

"There is not a huge push to expand any type of gambling," says the Sarasota Republican.

Gruters also sits on the house's Tourism & Gaming Subcommittee, where he says leaders have made their resistence clear.

"Any type of expansion is going to be, my guess is there's going to be some resistance, because in the state of Florida, everything is all tied into the Seminole compact that we have."

"If you violate it, you lose potentially a quarter of a billion dollars per year or more."

Current state law allows pari-mutuel facilities like the Sarasota Kennel Club to run certain types of gaming like dog-racing and poker, but casino games like roulette and black jack, where players bet against the bank or "house," are exclusive to tribal facilities, such as Tampa's Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

We reached out to the Seminole Tribe of Florida to get their thoughts on introducing sports betting to the state.

"Although the Seminole Tribe always takes a serious look at potential business opportunities, the legal and legislative hurdles are such that sports betting in Florida is not currently being considered by the tribe," tribe spokesperson Gary Bitner wrote in an email.

Lawmakers like Gruters may have no say in future laws, however, if voters pass constitutional Amendment 3 in November.

"The purpose and the goal of this amendment is to prevent the legislature from creating any new deals," he says. "Really preventing the expansion of gambling."

Expanding gaming is something Floridians should be careful about, warns Suncoast congressman Vern Buchanan.

"There's a lot of people who get addicted on betting, which can affect communities and families," says Buchanan.

Arnie Wexler wrote the book "All Bets are Off" about his struggle with gambling addiction, a problem he calls invisible unlike drugs and alcohol, but as one psychologist told him, more damaging.

"He said the suicide rate is 20 times higher with compulsive gambling than it is with drugs and alcohol," says Wexler.

He does worry the SCOTUS ruling will increase the number of victims in states that embrace sports betting.

"They better have a solid program on helping compulsive gamblers, because they're going to have a volcano and an explosion of people looking for help," says Wexler.

Still, it could help people like Jaquan gamble safely, and boost state income.

"Whatever they need, they need money to do it, and that's just a revenue income they do not have now," says Cathey.

Nevada's sports gambling revenue was a record $248 million last year, because, like they say, the house always wins.