The Long and Winding Road to Florida Sports Betting

  • Florida sports betting will launch in December but it has proven a difficult journey
  • It began with a trio of bills filed in March 2021 and a compact signed by the Governor
  • Several legal challenges followed, taking the battle all the way to the White House
  • In November, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals gave the final go-ahead to betting
Winding road in Florida
The road toward legal sports betting in Florida has proven a particularly long and winding one. [Image:]

A historic December

Often, the best things in life come to those who wait. Being patient is certainly something that advocates of sports betting have gotten used to in the state of Florida. They have had to wait five years since the repeal of national anti-betting legislation, but the market is finally coming to the third-most populated state in the US.

Thanks to a favorable US Supreme Court decision last week, the Seminole Tribe of Florida will go live with its in-person sports betting offering at six of its casinos this December. Marcellus Osceola Jr, Seminole Tribe Chairman, hailed the “historic legal victory” that paved the way for the launches, which will only include in-person betting for now.

 plenty of twists and turns along the way

It’s certainly proven a long and winding road toward Florida sports betting, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. To celebrate the state finally getting its launch date, VegasSlotsOnline News has taken a detailed look at how it all played out in Florida.

Three bills, one market

It all began back in March 2021 with the filing of a trio of new sports betting bills. Legislators had tried and failed to push through a similar proposal in 2020, but, undeterred, Rep. Chip LaMarca and Rep. Anika Omphroy proved far more successful the following session. Together, the three bills would create a framework for a legal retail and online sports betting market. HB 137 covered the overall policy, HB 1321 set out licensing details, and HB 1319 formed the tax structure surrounding the betting market.

This paved the way for the Seminole to begin negotiations with Governor Ron DeSantis regarding a compact. Both parties came to a quick deal. Under the terms of the 30-year agreement, retail sportsbooks could only go live in venues operated by the tribe, in addition to professional sports venues. Those properties could also set up a website or app for customers to wager online.

everything seemed in place for the Seminole to begin making its preparations

In May of that year, the governor signed the compact, SB 2-A, into law after it received overwhelming approval from the House and Senate. When the US Department of the Interior (DOI) okayed that deal in August, everything seemed in place for the Seminole to begin making its preparations; that is until the pushback began.

A swift response

While the reaction from sports fans might have been a positive one, other businesses did not take so kindly to being cut out of such a potentially lucrative market. West Flagler Associates Ltd – the owners of Miami-based Magic City Casino and the poker room Bonita-Fort Myers Corp – swiftly filed two lawsuits, one against the compact itself and the other against the Department of the Interior for approving it.

Rather than blocking betting overall, the gripes focused mainly on the inclusion of mobile betting in the gaming compact. The plaintiffs argued that this contravened federal law by allowing the tribe to offer betting outside of its reservations. They pointed to the 1986 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which they claimed prohibited this.

The debate over tribal compacts that include online gambling are a complex one. The “hub and spoke” model stipulates that a tribal casino will serve as the “hub” which facilitate online gambling throughout a state. In this sense, advocates argue that gambling still only takes place on Indian lands in line with the IGRA. In contrast, opponents argue that such a deal would need a constitutional amendment to permit statewide gambling, since users will mainly be located off reservation.

Shortly afterward, two wealthy Miami business leaders also joined the fight against the compact. Millionaire developer Armando Codina and billionaire auto retailer Norman Braman filed their own lawsuit. They claimed that the federal government allowed the Seminole to circumvent the state constitution, also agreeing that the compact violated the IGRA.

With the Seminole, DeSantis, and the DOI snowed under with legal challenges, it seemed Florida would not see a sports betting launch for many months to come. However, that didn’t turn out to be exactly true.

The one-month market

It seemed that when the Seminole launched its Hard Rock Sportsbook in November 2021, just months after it had received several legal challenges, the tribe aimed for hardly anyone to notice. It launched the sportsbook without any fanfare or grand announcement. Florida residents simply seemed to notice that it was now live.

Sadly for the Seminole, it’s difficult to launch a sportsbook without your opponents eventually becoming aware. A federal judge ruled that the compact did in fact violate the IGRA, causing the tribe to shut down its sportsbook just over a month after it went live. “We anticipated that this could happen,” Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters at the time, deeming the compact an “unsettled legal issue.”

The tribe applied for a stay on the decision so that it could continue to offer betting, but a judge denied it shortly afterwards arguing that they failed to prove a stay was necessary. In another blow to the Seminole, Google suspended all gambling ads in Florida, warning that it would issue penalties if the tribe continued to market its sportsbook.

Ultimately, it proved a shot in the dark by the Seminole which had failed to pay off. It would be nearly two years after that launch that the tribe would have any hope of reviving its sports betting dreams.

Got there in the end

What followed were two years of legal drudgery that travelled all the way to the top of the US judicial system. In August 2022, the White House advocated for an appeals court to reinstate the compact. A brief filed by the DOI defended the Biden administration’s stance, arguing that the compact would only allow gambling on tribal land.

West Flager Associates refused to go down without one last fight

Despite the White House throwing its hat into the ring, the legal battle went quiet again until June 2023 when a three-judge panel in the DC Circuit’s Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the tribe. The ruling officially overturned the decision made in November 2021, opening the door for the Hard Rock Sportsbook to go live again immediately, but West Flager Associates refused to go down without one last fight.

In September, the group filed a constitutional challenge against the Seminole deal in a last stand, claiming that DeSantis had “exceeded his authority by entering into a compact” with the tribe. This threw one last spanner in the works, but it wasn’t long before the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the Seminole.

Despite arguing that the compact “raises serious equal protection issues” in regard to the Seminole’s monopoly over betting, Justice Brett Kavanagh approved the deal without providing exact reasons behind the ruling, which it not uncommon in emergency applications.

It’s proven a tumultuous journey, but finally the Seminole and Florida sports bettors have their wish. Sports betting is arriving in Florida just in time for Christmas.

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