Florida’s Hard Rock Sportsbook braces for Friday legal showdown

by | Nov 3, 2021


[Ed note: the original story contained a reference to a previously dismissed lawsuit. That reference has been deleted.]

(The Center Square) – Sports betting is now legal online anywhere in the Sunshine State, at least until Friday when a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s 30-year pact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida is heard in Washington, D.C.

The Seminole Tribe Monday launched its Hard Rock Sportsbook, Florida’s first legalized sports betting operation. It was up when the New York Giants kicked off to the Kansas City Chiefs in their Monday Night Football contest.

The dawn of a new era – an estimated $7 billion is already spent by state residents betting via digital sportsbooks; one analyst projects Florida’s sports wagering market could top $12 billion annually – began without notice other than a “Game On, Florida” link on Seminole websites offering the Hard Rock Sportsbook digital app for download.

How long it will stay online has oddsmakers rubbing chins.

No Casinos’ President John Sowinski, who leads a powerful group that’s stymied gaming expansion in Florida since 1978, is betting the plug will be pulled on Hard Rock Sportsbook Friday.

No Casinos in September filed a 40-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., claiming the Florida-Seminole pact is “a clear violation” of federal law and Florida’s Constitution. The suit will be heard Friday.

“I’m very confident we’ll win on the merits,” Sowinski told Florida Phoenix. “I look forward to Friday.”

After two years of negotiations, the 75-page Florida-Seminole gaming compact was approved by lawmakers May 19 and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis May 25.

The compact made Florida the 22nd state to legalize sports betting since the Supreme Court’s 2018 Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association ruling.

The deal gives Seminoles exclusive control of blackjack, craps, online fantasy gaming and sports betting at its seven casinos via Hard Rock Sportsbook. In exchange, the Seminoles will pay Florida at least $500 million annually, or a minimum of $2.5 billion, for the first five years of the 30-year agreement.

The contention is the deal’s “hub-and-spoke” digital gambling model. Florida lawmakers and U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officials determined a bet placed via a tribal server meets stipulations that gambling only take place on tribal lands.

No Casino’s suit and a 43-page lawsuit filed by West Flagler Associates, which owns Miami’s Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, also in Washington, D.C., maintain the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) prohibits betting off tribal lands.

As litigation plays out, two of the world’s largest digital sportsbooks have seeded $20 million for a campaign to do what No Casino’s insists is the only legal way to expand gaming in Florida: Get 60% of voters to say “Yes.”

FanDuel, DraftKings and their PAC, Florida Education Champions are calling on residents to sign its petition to legalize sports gaming in statewide TV ads. They need 891,589 signatures to get their proposed constitutional amendment on November 2022’s ballot.

The Seminoles are countering with their own ads. “Watch out, Florida, out-of-state gambling companies want us to sign petitions to turn Florida into another Las Vegas while taking our money out of state,” claims one.

“While Seminole casino bosses may be attempting to scare or confuse the public with their ads, our message is simple, yet strong,” Florida Education Champions Christina Johnson responded. “For sports bettors who want competition and the freedom to choose which platform they use – rather than being backed into the corner by an arbitrary monopoly – it’s a win. But it’s also a win for Floridians who want to help bolster public education funding and ultimately ensure the future success of our students.”

1 Comment

  1. A.B.

    They’re going to have even more legal issues if they don’t figure out how a person who lives in Michigan, who isn’t registered on their site or have the app, can have every last cent debited out of their bank account. And I’m not the only person that has had this happen-and was told I needed to talk to my bank. They stole my cash (from my bank account in Michigan, where I reside), and had the audacity to say we can’t handle that, take it up with you bank. Suppose my bank will pay my rent and buy my groceries, too? Because I just got paid and they took my entire check, which buys things my family needs for two weeks…

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