Online Sports Betting Now Live in Florida After Surprise Launch of Hard Rock Sportsbook

  • Florida is now the most populated US state that has operational online sports betting
  • The Seminole Tribe signed a 30-year gaming compact with the state in May
  • The compact guarantees the state annual payments of $500m for the first five years
  • A number of legal challenges have called into question the legality of the compact
Welcome to Florida sign
Online sports betting is now up and running in Florida after the Hard Rock Sportsbook launched on Monday. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A launch from nowhere

Florida residents finally have access to online sports betting after the surprise launch of the Hard Rock Sportsbook. The Seminole Tribe of Florida launched the online offering on Monday with no prior warning. It did not issue a press release or conduct a marketing campaign with details of the launch date.

the most populated state in the US with legal online sports betting

As a result of this launch, Florida is now the most populated state in the US with legal online sports betting. Currently, it does not appear that retail sportsbooks have opened at any of the tribe’s seven properties in the state.

On Monday, FoxSports reporter Andy Slater took to Twitter to break the news of the surprise launch:

The Hard Rock Sportsbook app is now available on both the Apple Store and the Google Play Store. Gamblers can also access the sportsbook through a web browser on their computer or mobile devices. The sportsbook also has a welcome bonus offer.

The road to legalization

Sports betting became legal in Florida following a special legislative session in May. The state and the Seminole Tribe signed a 30-year gaming compact, giving the tribe a sports betting monopoly in the state. This compact received approval from the US Department of Interior, making betting officially legal on October 15. However, the tribe never gave a concrete launch date.

The legalization of sports betting in Florida could prove a substantial earner for the state and the Seminole. According to the new tribal betting compact, the state will receive a guaranteed $500m annually over the next five years.

Last week, the Seminole Tribe revealed that it had reached an arrangement with five different pari-mutuel facilities in Florida. These agreements mean that the facilities will get to launch their own online sportsbooks. The tribe expects more pari-mutuel license holders to enter these agreements, which provide the Seminole with a 40% cut of net revenue.

Pending lawsuits

There has been a lot of uncertainty over the launch of the tribe’s online sports betting offering because of pending legal action. Currently, the gaming compact is facing two legal challenges.

mobile bets take place wherever the server is located

Lawmakers have adopted a “hub and spoke” system for online sports betting in Florida. This means that mobile bets take place wherever the server is located – in this case, the Seminole reservation. Of the two pending federal lawsuits, one claims that this system is illegal, while the other claims that any form of gambling expansion can not go ahead unless it receives 60% approval from voters.

Officials dismissed another lawsuit two weeks ago. It deemed the compact illegal because it would allow the Seminole to process bets outside of tribal lands. However, the district court judge ultimately ruled against the Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino, stating that they did not have the grounds to sue. The plaintiffs sought a delay to the launch of online sports betting.

Another major challenge

Finally, major sportsbook operators FanDuel and DraftKings are pushing for a more expansive sports betting landscape in Florida. Each operator has committed $10m to get a sports betting-related referendum onto the 2022 ballot.

Their proposal would allow commercial sportsbook operators to join Florida’s new market. However, they must have held legal sportsbook licenses in at least ten other states for at least 12 months beforehand.

The proposal needs 891,589 valid petition signatures by the February 1 2022 deadline to make it onto the ballot. The uptake in signatures has been poor so far, with the Seminole Tribe also providing $10m in funding for television ads urging Floridians not to sign any gambling petitions.