Florida Sports Betting: Outlining Key Dates for In-Person, Online Betting in the Sunshine State

Florida Sports Betting: Outlining Key Dates for In-Person, Online Betting in the Sunshine State article feature image

Rob Foldy/Getty Images. Pictured: A detailed view of a Florida Gators flag.

  • Florida’s first retail sportsbooks seem like a sure bet to open later this fall.
  • An online sportsbook under the Seminole’s Hard Rock Digital brand is facing legal challenges.
  • Other sportsbook operators have so far not earned federal or state approvals, and an independent push to go live faces multiple additional obstacles.

Florida politicians and the state’s Seminole Tribe struck a groundbreaking compact agreement earlier this year that could open up the nation’s largest legal sports betting market.

With a month-and-a-half before the scheduled go-live date for the state’s first online and retail sportsbooks, the actual launch timeline — for at least possible digital options — is still in question.

As multiple lawsuits loom in federal and state court, here are the possible outcomes for Florida sports betting and key dates to anticipate.

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Retail Sportsbooks

Key Date: Oct. 15

There seems no legal avenue that will prevent the Seminole Tribe from opening sportsbooks at its retail casinos Oct. 15, the first date the compact permits it to do so.

The tribe is already hiring for retail sportsbooks at its two major facilities; the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa and Hollywood, respectively. The compact also opens the doors for sportsbooks at its four other regional casinos as well as other additional, future gaming facilities the tribe can open as part of the deal.

Under federal law, federally recognized gaming tribes have had (comparatively) fewer issues opening sportsbooks on tribal lands in the three years since the Supreme Court struck down the federal wagering ban. By October, tribes in at least a dozen other states are expected to have opened brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, a list the Seminoles are almost assured to join.

Online Sportsbook (Hard Rock Digital)

Key Date: Sept. 7

The 2021 gaming compact also permitted the Seminoles to open a statewide mobile sportsbook Oct. 15, which it announced would be under the tribe’s Hard Rock Digital brand. It would be the first tribe to open a digital sportsbook off tribal lands under the auspicious of federal law.

Tribes in Michigan, Connecticut and potentially Arizona have been permitted to open digital sportsbooks but under the purview of their respective state’s regulators, which in turn treats them as if they were commercial entities. The new federal ruling that would no longer require such state-level authority for tribes to open an online sportsbook has been a key target from plaintiffs looking to stop the online betting launch.

In allowing the compact to take effect, federal officials say the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) was designed to expand and grow with new gaming forms.

Bryan Newland, who authored the letter on behalf of the Department of the Interior that is tasked with approving gaming compacts, wrote that this now expands to online sports betting, the first time the DOI had signed off on a digital wagering deal that allows betting outside the physical limits of tribal lands.

This led a Florida parimutuel owner to challenge the DOI’s ruling in both state and federal court. While Florida government officials and the tribe have argued the compact is legal as long as the actual online sportsbook’s computer servers are within tribal lands, the owners of Magic City Casino have argued the 1988 federal law does not permit such a broad interpretation and violates other federal online gaming statutes as well.

The plaintiffs have sought a preliminary injunction to stop the Hard Rock digital launch as a final ruling goes through the court system. A Florida court is expected to make a determination on the preliminary injunction by Sept. 7.

Granting the stoppage would indicate the court intends to rule in the plaintiffs’ favor, meaning Florida’s first legal online sportsbook most likely will not be able to launch. Conversely, refusal to grant the preliminary injunction indicates the courts will rule in the Seminole’s favor and the Hard Rock Digital app will proceed with its scheduled Oct. 15 launch.

Third-Party Online Sportsbooks

Key Date: Nov. 8, 2022

Though federal officials granted leeway to the first-ever tribal-run online sportsbook independent of state regulators, the Interior Department did not support a separate sports betting avenue included in the Seminole gaming compact.

Newland wrote the Interior Department “did not endorse” a proposed third-party partnership with state parimutuel operators that would allow these companies, the tribe and other sportsbook brands to open in the state and split revenue. This arrangement, Newland wrote, violated IGRA; this means that even if the tribe reached such a deal, it would likely be rejected by federal authorities.

Seminole Gaming officials said before the compact was ratified that many “major” sportsbook operators including FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Barstool had inquired about a Florida sports betting partnership with pari-mutuels and the Seminoles. For now, that avenue appears closed.

Meanwhile, DraftKings and FanDuel are championing an independent constitutional amendment that would allow themselves and other larger online sportsbooks to enter the market. The two sportsbook operators, under the “Florida Education Champion” political action committee, are now collecting the nearly one million valid signatures required to place an amendment proposal on the ballot.

If the PAC collects the one million signatures and earns approval for the November 2022 ballot, it’s still no sure bet these outside third-party companies can enter the state.

Florida’s constitution requires a 60 percent voter threshold to pass a constitutional amendment, a high bar to cross for any initiative. Florida also has high-profile anti-gambling groups that could seek to tank such a measure, including No Casinos, which is also considering a lawsuit of its own against the Seminole compact.

Additionally, the Seminole Tribe has also contributed millions of dollars to other ballot measures and seems unlikely to sit back on a proposal that would take away its de facto sports betting monopoly.

Bottom Line

Florida bettors should be able to place in-person bets beginning this fall, but a legal online option is still far from certain.

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