The fight for online sports betting sites to reach the state of Florida is as muddy as ever. Recent court decisions have essentially opened up the opportunity for the Seminole Tribe and their Hard Rock Bet platform to go live, but for many reasons it hasn't.
The latest chapter in the complicated story of legal Florida sports betting opened Thursday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied a request by West Flagler Associates, owner of two Florida parimutuels, to stay a lower court decision that essentially gave the Seminoles the green light to launch their Florida sports betting app.
That lower court decision could have seen online sports betting sites go live in Florida as early as Sept. 19, but there has been no sign of any attempts by the Seminole Tribe to roll out their Hard Rock Bet brand.
“It’s another positive development, but it will have no immediate effect on the Seminole Tribe’s plans,” Gary Bitner, a spokesperson for the tribe, said in a statement this week.
A little back story
The Seminole Tribe has always held a virtual monopoly on the gambling industry in the Florida market. It was back in 2021 that Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded the tribal compact to include legal sports betting, giving the Seminoles powers to oversea an eventual sports betting platform in the state while essentially maintaining a monopoly of the gambling industry in the Sunshine State.
Since that time, there has been no shortage of challengers to the renegotiated compact, and lawsuits against the agreement ensued.
It didn't stop the Seminole Tribe from launching their mobile sports betting brand ... for a 34-day period in 2021, before they were shut down pending legal action by opponents of the renegotiated compact.
Fast forward to 2023 and West Flagler Associates, whose objection to the virtual Seminole Tribe monopoly was heard and ruled against earlier this month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia District.
West Flagler’s requested en banc hearing on their objection was rejected, and a June court decision surrounding the wording of the Florida State/Seminole Compact was upheld. On Thursday, the Appeals Court denied a stay that motion filed by the opponents of the Seminole deal.
There still remains two court cases pending against the Seminole's compact with the state that threaten to further stall the launch of legal mobile sports betting in the Sunshine State. While ultimately up to the Seminole Tribe whether or not they want to launch, it appears as though a more cautious, deliberate approach will prevail.
Seminole Tribe could have launched sports betting brand already
The Seminole Tribe had a dry run at launching their legal mobile sports betting brand back in 2021, only to have it shut down by the courts. While learning a lot, it appears as though the Tribe is approaching launch a little more cautiously this time.
The opportunity is there for the Seminoles to launch anytime in Florida and the law, so far, has been on their side. But it is anyone's guess when Florida residents will be able to place a legal sports wager without crossing a state border.
It appears as though West Flagler Associates are not done with their court challenges to a legal sports betting platform in Florida. In one case, they joined Bonita-Fort Meyers Corporation to fight the wording of the 2021 gaming compact.
That argument is set to go in front of the Florida Supreme Court. It states that Amendment 3 of the Florida Constitution gives voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida.” The negotiated compact bypassed that Amendment.
The lawsuits from West Flagler, and other objections from interested parties in the Florida legal sports betting scene, will likely continue for the foreseeable future. In that case, nobody wins – not the Florida sports bettor, the sports teams that call the Sunshine State home or the tax coffers, that under the 2021 negotiated compact, were set to receive billions of dollars from the Seminole Tribe’s gambling businesses.