Florida Sports Betting Lawsuit: Seminole Tribe Sports Betting on Hold

Florida Sports Betting Lawsuit: Seminole Tribe Sports Betting on Hold
Image © Janine Zeitlin / USA Today Network Florida
✍️ Written by
Alicia Butler
🗓 Updated
Sep 4th 2023

The Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, FL, quietly launched a sports betting app at the beginning of November.

Earlier this year, the Seminole tribe signed a 30-year compact with the state of Florida. Among other points, the compact included legislature that would allow residents to place bets online through the Hard Rock Casino’s sports betting app.

But then two land-based pari-mutuel sportsbooks filed lawsuits, claiming that the tribe accepting online sports bets was unlawful, as bets weren’t placed while bettors were physically on tribal land.

Will the Florida sports betting lawsuit change online betting in Florida and other states?

Is sports betting legal in Florida?

Yes! Sports betting is now legal in Florida. Yet, the future of online sports betting within the state remains unclear.

In November 2021, the Hollywood Hard Rock Casino began accepting sports bets through its online app. Floridians of legal gambling age (and anyone of legal gambling age physically located in Florida) at that time could legally place sports bets through Hard Rock’s online betting app.

Like many other states, Florida has been traveling the long road to legalizing sports betting and online betting for over a year — starting with the introduction of House Bills 1317,1321, and 1319 in February 2021.

Yet, sports betting and online betting in Florida haven’t been rolled out without a hitch.

Since Governor Ron DeSantis signed a compact with the Seminole tribe back in April, the pari-mutuel sportsbooks have been fighting for their piece of the online betting pie.

Florida Sports Betting Legalization Timeline

The road to Florida legalizing sports betting and online betting has been long and windy.

The first pieces of the Florida State legislature were introduced back in February 2021. Unlike in other states, pari-mutuel operators have fought tooth and nail to prevent the Seminole tribe from offering sports betting online.

The Florida sports betting legalization timeline is as follows:

February 2021: Florida State introduces House Bills 1317,1321, and 1319 to legalize sports betting within the state.

March 2021: A potential effective date of October 1, 2021, is proposed by Senator Jeff Brandes.

April 23, 2021: Governor Ron DeSantis brokers a deal between the state and the Florida Seminole tribe — the first major step to legalizing sports betting online and at land-based sportsbooks.

May 2021: A special session of the Florida State Senate is held, and senators vote to approve the compact signed by the governor and the Seminole tribe.

September 27, 2021: Two pari-mutuel facilities file a lawsuit against Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature or State Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Julie Brown for circumventing the Florida State Consitution by allowing online sports betting to take place off tribal lands.

October 18, 2021: U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor Local dismisses the local suit, “because their actions are not fairly traceable to any alleged harm.”

November 1, 2021: The Hollywood Hard Rock Casino quietly launches its sports betting app and begins accepting sports bets through its land-based casino.

November 5, 2021: A second case challenging the legality of the contract between the Seminole tribe and Florida is heard by a federal judge.

November 22, 2001: The Seminole tribe asks for a stay in sports betting case while its legal team prepares for an appeal, but the request is denied by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the U.S. District Court in D.C.

November 28, 2021: The Seminole tribe again asks for a stay in sports betting case while its legal team prepares for an appeal.

December 3, 2021: Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the U.S. District Court in D.C. again denies the stay, upholding her first decision — and leaving the future of online sports betting in the state unknown.

Benefits of Florida Legalizing Sports Betting 

Despite the state’s and Seminole tribe’s legal battles, there are plenty of benefits of legalizing sports betting in Florida — both at land-based sportsbooks and online platforms.

As states have been rushing to legalize sports betting all across the country, many have proven that legalizing betting not only helps the sportsbooks but doing so also helps the state’s revenue and economy.

Increased Tax Revenue

States that have legalized sports betting have seen increased tax revenue. New Jersey has beaten its own sports betting record twice — first in September and then in October.

In September, the state broke its $1 billion record; in October, the state beat its own record again with $1.3 billion in sports bets. While the state only drew in $931 million in November, that’s still a huge chunk of change.

Of course, it’s not just the sportsbooks that are profiting off of this revenue, either. The state charges land-based sportsbooks 8.5% and online sportsbooks 13%.

Casino and Sportsbook Job Creation

Land-based casinos and sportsbooks create jobs for local state residents. More players and more revenue may lead to more jobs for local Floridians.

Bars and restaurants may also see an uptick in sales, as patrons flock to these establishments to watch games and place their bets through mobile apps.

Social Distanced Betting

Legalizing online sports betting allows Floridians to place bets wherever they are located within the state.

This means that residents don’t need to feel uncomfortable entering crowded spaces just to place sports bets.

Florida’s Sports Betting Lawsuit

Florida’s sports betting lawsuit has thrown a wrench in bettors’ plans to place bets online. Two lawsuits were filed by pari-mutuel sportsbooks, including an in-state suit and one filed in D.C.

Pari-Mutuels File Lawsuits 

In September, two pari-mutuel sportsbooks filed a lawsuit against the Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis. These facilities believed it was unlawful to allow online sports betting since bettors would in fact be placing bets off tribal lands.

The state and tribe believed that they were not breaking the law since the servers storing online betting information were located on tribal lands. In October, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor Local dismissed the suit, “because their actions are not fairly traceable to any alleged harm.”

But then the pari-mutuels filed a second case with the appellate court in D.C., challenging the legality of the Seminole tribe/Florida state contract.

In response, the Seminole tribe asked for a stay in the sports betting case while its legal team prepares for an appeal.

Seminole tribe lawyer fails to prove irreparable harm

The Seminole tribe requested a stay due to the possible irreparable harm shutting down the sports betting app could cause.

The tribe hired hundreds of employees and vendors to help develop and maintain the app as well as invested over $25 million in developing the online platform. The tribe has also made more than $60 million worth of payments to the state (as described in the compact, which was approved by the Florida Legislature).

Unfortunately, the tribe’s lawyer was unable to prove irreparable harm to the tribe should the sports betting app be shut down while the tribe appeals the decision. The tribe’s lawyer argued that the tribe would lose substantial revenue.

Friedrich’s Four-Point Rebuttal

Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the U.S. District Court denied the tribe’s request in a four-point rebuttal.

Friedrich believed that the tribe couldn’t prove their future success should they be allowed to continue operating the online sports betting app.

She also believed that allowing betting on the app could harm the plaintiffs, owners of the Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room. The Magic City Casino’s lawyers argued that the casino’s revenue fell 35% during the first day the tribe’s sporting app went live.

Fredrich also stated that allowing a stay would perpetuate unlawful agency action.

Seminole Sportsbook Shuts Down

The Hard Rock Casino’s sportsbook has shut down, as the casino currently has no other options.

Until the tribe can appeal with the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, the online sportsbook will not be able to operate as planned.

Future of Florida Sports Betting

Currently, the future of Florida sports betting remains unclear. But many experts believe that things don’t look good for the Seminole tribe’s case.

The tribe will file an appeal with the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals before or on Dec. 27, 2021.

Will the Seminole tribe be allowed to relaunch sports betting app?

Currently, no. The Seminole tribe will not be allowed to relaunch its sports app until the verdict of its appeal is heard.

Is online sports betting halted indefinitely in Florida?

Currently, online sports betting is halted in Florida somewhat indefinitely.

The tribe will need to hear back from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals before it may move forward with its online betting app.

Will the Florida sports betting law be considered precedence in other states?

It’s also unclear if other land-based sportsbooks will consider similar legal repercussions should states legalize online sports betting through tribal nations.

Depending on how each state’s tribal-state compact is written, similar lawsuits could conceivably be filed against online sportsbooks if users are placing bets off tribal land.

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