Legal Sports Betting Remains a Cloudy Issue in the Sunshine State

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For a brief time during the fall of 2021, sports betting was legal in the state of Florida. State Governor Ron DeSantis came to terms with the Seminole Tribe on an amended gaming compact in May of that year. Shortly after that, Florida lawmakers voted to accept the new compact into law.

The amended gaming compact with the tribe was a 30-year agreement that would pay the state $500 million a year. The compact was then approved at the federal level by the US Department of the Interior.

Quickly working through the regulatory details, the Seminole Tribe was able to launch legal sports betting by Nov. 1 of last year. The Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app went live statewide in Florida to provide legal betting on sports.

Since the Hard Rock app’s mobile bets were processed through a sports betting platform located on tribal lands, everything complied with the legal requirements of that amended gaming compact.

Unfortunately, other interested gaming parties in the state were not all that thrilled with the recent developments. Opposing parties were quick to challenge the legality of the amended gaming compact. The main concern was that the terms of the agreement violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Lawsuits followed, and the Seminoles were forced to cease operations of the Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app. The primary legal suit at play is West Flagler Associates vs. Haaland. This suit was successful in shutting down legal sports betting in Florida while the matter works its way through the courts.

Appeals to this suit have been filed, and the issue at hand remains pending in the US Court of Appeals. The approval of this appeal weighs heavily on the court’s interpretation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

There is still a chance that Florida’s amended gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe will be upheld. This could pave the way for the return of the Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app.

If the appeal is denied, the Seminole Tribe moves back to square one. A deal would have to be reached with the interested parties on an acceptable resolution. Given the current timing surrounding this course of action, the earliest a resolution could be reached would be during Florida’s 2023 legislative session.

Major US sportsbook operators such as FanDuel and DraftKings have a huge vested interest in this matter as well. Both gaming companies backed an effort to bring legal sports betting to Florida through a ballot initiative.

The financial support behind a group known as the Florida Education Champions was more than $36 million. However, the initiative fell well short of the 891,589 signatures needed to trigger a voter referendum. The next possible chance to put the issue in the hands of Florida voters would be November of 2024.

Support for legal sports betting in Florida remains strong. The main problem is that too many interested parties want a piece of the action. The Seminoles have pretty much controlled legal gambling in the state via the tribe’s Hard Rock casino locations. However, with this much money at stake, the fight to control legal sports betting continues on.

Written by Dave Schwab, our US Sports Betting Industry Expert.

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