Hard Rock Launches Florida Sports Betting Amid Active Court Challenges

December 8, 2023
After several weeks of limited access for Florida gamblers, the Seminole Tribe's Hard Rock International fully launched its mobile sports-betting app on Thursday, even as a pair of court challenges remain active in the state's Supreme Court and potentially in the U.S. Supreme Court.

After several weeks of limited access for Florida gamblers, the Seminole Tribe's Hard Rock International fully launched its mobile sports-betting app on Thursday (December 7), even as a pair of court challenges remain active in the state's Supreme Court and potentially in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The tribe, which owns the casino operator, also rolled out craps, roulette and retail sports betting at its flagship Hard Rock tribal casino in Hollywood, near Fort Lauderdale.

Hard Rock Bet initially relaunched on November 7 but only to loyalty members or existing customers who had placed wagers when the app was briefly live for 34 days in 2021 prior to an adverse federal court ruling.

“The Seminole Tribe is proud to point to a new era in Florida gaming with the unveiling of our new casino games,” chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said in a statement. “With the addition of craps, roulette and sports betting, we now offer a full complement of casino games, and we join the ranks of leading casinos around the world.”

As things stand, Hard Rock is the only sports-betting brand available in Florida but it remains to be seen for how long that will be the case.

The 75-page compact agreed between Florida and the Seminole Tribe in 2021 does allow tribes to enter sportsbook partnerships with Florida’s pari-mutuel facilities — racetracks and jai alai frontons that also offer slot machines and certain card games, depending on their location.

The compact allows both for sports-wagering kiosks connected to servers on Indian lands to be installed in commercial gaming facilities, as well as for third-party brands to be offered on the tribe's online platform.

In accordance with federal laws on tribal gaming, the Seminole Tribe would have to retain 60 percent of total revenue generated by sports betting via its platform.

Still, the tribe is incentivized to partner with at least three Florida pari-mutuels upon its launch of sports betting, otherwise its revenue-share payments to the state from wagering would increase from 13.75 to 15.75 percent. The Seminole Tribe would also share a lesser amount of 10 percent of any revenue derived from pari-mutuel partners.

“The compact requires, and we are exceeding it tremendously, that we work on a hub-and-spoke model with the parimutuels,” Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen told Bloomberg last week.

Currently, there are about 30 pari-mutuel operators that could offer sports betting in partnership with the tribe.

“We’re trying to work with all of them to introduce sports betting at their facilities also,” Allen said.

The Seminoles have exclusive rights to retail and mobile sports betting in the state under the 30-year tribal gaming compact that was approved in 2021 but was only recently restored by a federal appeals court ruling.

A hub-and-spoke system allows sports bets to be placed anywhere in Florida but processed by servers located on tribal land.

In 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the compact violated federal law by allowing gaming outside tribal lands. Friedrich also vacated the entire compact rather than striking the online sports-betting portions and allowing the rest of the compact to remain in place.

In June, a three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned Friedrich’s ruling, allowing the state-tribal compact to become operational. 

The full launch of the compact's expanded gambling provisions on Thursday comes amid two court challenges by West Flagler Associates that seek to terminate mobile sports betting.

West Flagler has argued that the compact violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because betting does not occur on tribal land.

West Flagler also argues that any expansion of casino gambling in Florida requires voter approval.

In response, attorneys for Republican Governor Ron DeSantis contend the betting does not violate the law because the servers receiving the bets are on tribal land. DeSantis filed his response on Friday (December 1) to West Flagler’s petition, seeking to have the Florida Supreme Court dismiss the case. 

In the 65-page filing, Ashley Moody, Florida’s attorney general, argued that West Flagler has provided “no basis for this court to upend work approved by three sovereigns in their third-choice legal venue.”

Currently, the state's Supreme Court is considering whether or not to accept the case or send it to a lower court. 

At federal level, Chief Justice John Robert has granted West Flagler’s request for an extension to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court until a later deadline of February 9, 2024. 

West Flagler requested the extension so it could include the Florida Supreme Court’s eventual decision on its sports-betting lawsuit in its petition with the Supreme Court.

Asked whether he was concerned that Hard Rock could be forced to take its app offline again, Allen told the South Florida Sun Sentinel: “I think we are always respectful to the legal process. So, until a court makes a decision in a different direction, we move forward.”

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