WELL, THAT DIDN’T LAST LONG, DID IT?
Florida sports betting came and went in the blink of an eye. Hard Rock removed its sportsbook app after only 3 weeks of activity.
A series of court rulings against the legality of sports betting in the state went against it and it was taken down.
The Seminole Tribe are appealing the court decision and 2 other sportsbook operators (FanDuel and DraftKings) are putting together a ballot initiative that would petition to allow online sports wagering to be reinstated.
The ballot may yet contain their proposal in November 2022, meaning that the earliest legal sports betting in Florida would be in 2023. But that is far from guaranteed at this point.
ONE STEP FORWARD AND 2 STEPS BACK IT SEEMS…
In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the state of sports betting in Florida as it stands and what is likely to happen next.
A HISTORIC RULING
Legal sports betting began spreading across the United States after the shock 2018 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This paved the way for all states to authorize sports betting and legal sportsbooks have since begun operating in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Check out our article – What states allow sports betting?
THE LIE OF THE LAND
So. As if understanding gambling itself weren’t complicated enough at times, try mixing it with the law…
THE TWISTS AND TURNS OF THIS CASE ARE MYRIAD
Here is a recent timeline of events:
March 4th, 2022: DraftKings sportsbook are fined $150,000 for having allowed a VIP bettor registered in Florida to bet in New Jersey using their site via a proxy.
Feb 21st, 2022: DraftKings CEO Jason Robins claims to be “very confident” that sportsbooks will manage to get a question on the ballot regarding Florida sports betting by 2024. It may be that Nov 2022 sees the ballot appear much earlier than he hopes but that is yet to be confirmed.
Feb 11th, 2022: The Department of Justice files a statement in the Florida sports betting compact case, outlining the reason for its appeal.
Jan 31st, 2022: The ballot-signature drive fails and the sportsbooks are forced to accept defeat. The issue is pushed back and means that Florida may not get legalized sports betting until 2025.
Jan 14, 2022: DraftKings offer free bets to all sports bettors based in Florida if they will sign the petition to get a ballot question.
Dec 17th, 2021: FanDuel and DraftKings struggle to collect almost a million signatures that they need to guarantee a sports betting question on the 2022 ballot.
Dec 4th, 2021: The Seminole Tribe withdraws the Hard Rock Sportsbook app after court rulings go against legal sports wagering in Florida. Again the Tribe appeals.
Nov 22nd, 2021: A federal court rules against the Seminole Tribe. Their Hard Rock betting app continues to function as they appeal the ruling.
Nov 10th, 2021: The Federal Government submits new arguments in the case.
Nov 1st, 2021: — The Hard Rock online sportsbook app is launched by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Legal challenges are underway but, at the time of writing (03/09/22) the app is still functional across the state. No registration is required in person.
IS SPORTS BETTING LEGAL IN FLORIDA?
Technically, yes. Sports betting is legal in Florida.
The problem is that there is no way to do it as yet
The Hard Rock Sportsbook app, which was launched by the Seminole Tribe in early November 2021, was removed again in December due to the outcome of several court hearings.
As can be seen in the timeline above, the Seminole Tribe is appealing the outcome but the wheels turn very slowly and no decision has yet been reached.
WHERE DOES THE STORY BEGIN?
The full history of tribal gambling concessions in the USA is a fascinating one. The Seminole Tribe are front and center in that story. For the sake of brevity here, we will give only a brief outline.
In the early 1970s, a married Chippewa couple living on Indian lands in Northern Minnesota was sent a property tax bill by the local county.
They had never received one before and were unwilling and unable to pay it.
They duly challenged the tax in the state courts but were not successful. Unhappy with the result, they sought review by the Supreme Court.
In a shocking, unanimous decision, the Supreme Court agreed that states do not have the authority to tax Natives on their reservations.
Not only that, but they also lack the authority even to regulate Native activities on their reservations.
This was a crucial addition that has shaped the history of gambling in the United States ever since
Entrepreneurial Natives began operating bingo sites soon thereafter and the wheels were in motion.
Those wheels eventually led to the 2021 agreement with the state of Florida.
THE FLORIDA SPORTS BETTING COMPACT
Contrary to typical discussions of this nature, the negotiations about providing online sports gambling in Florida took place behind closed doors.
A contract had to be agreed upon between the state and the sportsbook operators (the Seminole Tribe). The talks between the two parties had stalled and spent many long months with little to no progress.
Then came the rapid rise of legal online sports betting right across the United States. It must have become clear to all involved that the time had come to finally come to an arrangement and step into the modern world and legalize sports betting.
The agreement (compact) calls for the Seminole Indian Tribe to share 13.75% of their sports betting revenue with the state of Florida. There is also a proviso that they sign sports betting contracts with at a minimum of three pari-mutuel operators.
Once on board, those pari-mutuel operators would be permitted to launch their own sites. It would require bets to be made via the Seminole Tribe’s server. They would be allowed to keep 40% of the sports betting revenue they generated.
If the Seminoles were unable to reach agreements with three additional operators within 3 months of the compact being signed, then the revenue share of 13.75% would increase by 2% until such deals were signed.
In April 2021, the governor of Florida signed a 30-year agreement allowing the Seminole Tribe to provide statewide online and mobile sports wagering.
It required that the servers providing the facility be located on tribal lands in order to qualify.
The deal was given the green light by state legislators the following month and was allowed to proceed (without explicit approval) by the Department of the Interior.
All seemed set to go-ahead
The Hard Rock casino launched its mobile sportsbook app on Nov 1st.
It managed to take online bets for just three weeks before the ruling caused it to cease.
THE APPLECART IS UPSET
A judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs (who just happened to own casinos in the state) who questioned the definition of mobile sports betting under tribal gaming law through the court system.
Legal experts do not agree whether it is legal for tribes to facilitate mobile sports betting outside of reservation lands. If it is interpreted one way, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) limits wagering to within the borders of a tribe’s physical lands.
This strikes us as a question of semantics that could be argued for a very long time. It certainly remains open and undecided as we speak.
Local groups have also claimed that the agreement (compact) violates a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval for a site of this nature.
State voters approved an amendment to the Florida constitution in 2018. It gave them the power to decide whether any future gaming expansion would be allowed to happen.
Those with a vested interest in challenging the new gaming compact and thereby thwarting the potential relaunch of Florida sportsbooks, do so on the grounds that the deal must be approved via the ballot.
They are preparing to launch their legal objections.
IN OTHER WORDS – IT’S A MESS
CAN OTHER ONLINE SPORTS BETTING SITES OPERATE IN FLORIDA?
The deal approved between the state government and the tribe does allow for other Florida sportsbook brands to participate.
The trick, however, is that these brands must reach a remunerative deal with the Seminole in order to be allowed access to the Florida sports betting market.
The tribe pays around $330,000,000 to the state of Florida every year.
THE STATE OF PLAY
Aside from those that deal with horse racing, there are currently no legal sportsbook websites accepting bets made within the state of Florida.
There are a number of illegal, offshore websites that are only too happy to step in and offer sports betting in Florida.
The problem is that they do not hold a license from any US jurisdiction and are unable to legally accept bets from residents.
Without the regulation and backing that the state provides, these offshore betting apps are exceptionally dubious.
There is nothing to stop them from refusing to pay out on winning bets. Or simply disappearing with a punter’s stake money and that’s that.
There is no recourse of action that can be taken against offshore online sportsbooks and you would need to be dangerously desperate to lay a bet with them.
Licensed operators are the only safe way to gamble in the United States. Unfortunately, at the moment, there aren’t any who will take a bet from you in Florida.
IS THERE ANY WAY TO BET ON SPORTS IN FLORIDA?
The compact that was agreed with the Seminole Tribe (although still contentious in and of itself) does allow for retail sportsbooks in Florida.
Sadly, those are still under scrutiny and are still being worked out.
The tribe currently owns and operates six casinos in Florida.
The larger of those will surely have on-site sportsbooks if and when sports betting in Florida relaunches.
Here are the Casinos that the Seminole Tribe operate:
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Hollywood
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Tampa
Seminole Casino, Coconut Creek
The Seminole Classic Casino, Hollywood
Seminole Casino Hotel, Immokalee
The Seminole Casino Brighton, Okeechobee
Pari-mutuel operators at the State’s horse racing facilities may also be able to open retail sportsbooks.
Again, this is subject to them reaching an agreement with the Seminole Tribe according to the terms of the Florida Compact.
AND GIVING AWAY 60% OF THEIR TAKINGS…
IS HORSE RACING LEGAL IN FLORIDA?
In Florida, pari-mutuel wagering via the Seminoles is authorized for horse racing. It also allows for harness horse racing, quarter-horse racing, greyhound racing. Casino games such as jai alai games and cardroom poker games are included.
In certain counties (Broward and Miami-Dade) slot machine gaming is also permitted.
TIMES AND OPINIONS CHANGE
Sporting events fall in and out of favor.
Did you know that Florida was once the dog racing capital of the United States and boasted 11 greyhound racetracks?
In 2018 voters turned their backs on dog racing in the state and it ceased at the beginning of 2021.
One thing remains true, however.
Floridians love to gamble even if their preferred sports have changed
Whatever way they choose to do it, as the 3rd most populous state in America, Florida is a huge, as yet relatively untapped market of potential sports betting enthusiasts.
Florida sports teams are involved in all the top-tier sports in the USA and the state’s college sports teams also attract a lot of attention.
From the Orlando Magic, Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Tampa Bay Rays and the Florida Gators. Not forgetting the Tampa Bay Lightning and Miami Heat.
Florida even has excellent NHL teams like the Florida Panthers.
In fact, Florida residents are spoilt for choice in terms of choosing a quality sports’ team to follow.
THEY JUST CAN’T THROW A FEW BUCKS AT THEM TO WIN AND SPICE UP THE GAMES
The Florida Gaming Compact stood to put hundreds of millions of dollars into the state. If the Florida legislature would allow it.
We all know that the infrastructure of the nation’s second most popular tourist destination wouldn’t suffer from a big pile of money being invested in it.
And that’s the problem.
THE PILE OF MONEY IS JUST TOO BIG
The trouble with any situation like this is that everybody knows just how lucrative this industry is. And everyone wants a piece of the action.
There are those who object on religious or moral grounds. And those who just don’t like gambling.
But overall, the main objections come from those who feel left out and want their piece of the huge, deep pie.
Will they eventually make legalize sports betting in Florida?
Undoubtedly. A Florida sports betting law of some description is an inevitability. Demand is high and the state cannot afford to fall behind and let all that revenue slip away.
It just depends on how many palms need to be greased. And how many manilla envelopes stuffed with cash misplaced before it is allowed to happen.