Florida Panthers May Owe $30.8 Million if Team Hasn't Sheltered Homeless Since '96

Here's an audit Florida's professional sports franchises may not have expected -- records of housing the homeless at their facilities over the years.

The chances of that audit happening depend on a bill that's working its way through the Legislature, and if the Florida Panthers haven't been housing the homeless, the team's on the hook for more than $30.8 million in tax breaks it's gotten since 1996.

A recently released legislative analysis of State Sen. Mike Bennett's Senate Bill 816 notes that a law from the '80s requires sports franchises in Florida to house the homeless in its facility on off-nights, and in exchange, the teams get $166,667 from the state every month.

According to the bill analysis, the teams would have to return the money they received unless they can prove they've been running these homeless programs.

For the Panthers -- who play at Sunrise's BankAtlantic Center -- that's a tab of $30,833,395.

Every single professional sports team in the state has collected this cash over the years, including more than half of the MLB teams that come down to play in the Grapefruit League every spring.

It's not clear whether any of the teams have any of these programs set up in their facilities, but Bennett doesn't think so.

Our inquiry to the Panthers' facility operations manager wasn't immediately returned.

The bill has several more steps to go through before being passed, but an amendment's been added that fines teams that receive public funding if a game ends up being blacked out on TV or on the radio. Those fines would be used to purchase tickets to the game that would be given to needy kids.

Find the Senate's analysis of the legislation below, which includes how much each team in the state has received for this homeless-housing initiative:

Senate Bill Analysis: SB 816

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley