A federal appeals court has rejected the request of two Florida-based gaming operators seeking to keep Hard Rock Bet Florida on the sidelines in the Sunshine State while they took their case challenging the 2021 gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The denial of a stay for West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Meyers Corp. means the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia will soon issue its mandate to the U.S. District Court in the nation’s capital to reverse its decision from two years ago that threw out the gaming compact. That deal between the Seminole Tribe and the DeSantis Administration included exclusive online Florida sports betting rights for the tribe.
When U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s previous order is finally overturned, it would open the doors for the Seminole Tribe to restart its Hard Rock app, which it operated for about a month across Florida two years ago. However, the plaintiffs in the case are now expected to quickly file their appeals to the Supreme Court. They also filed a lawsuit earlier this week with the Florida Supreme Court seeking the state’s top justices to rule that Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders violated the constitution when they signed and approved the gaming compact. The plaintiffs claim statewide sports betting goes against a 2018 state constitutional amendment that requires voters approve any effort to authorize casino gaming off tribal lands.
“We do not comment on pending litigation, and we believe the Florida constitution is clear on this issue,” said Raquel Rodriguez, who chairs Buchanan’s Florida offices, in an email to FloridaBet.com. Buchanan is the firm representing the plaintiffs at the state level.
A ‘Positive’ Development
In a statement after the ruling, a Seminole spokesperson was noncommittal about when Hard Rock’s Florida betting apps may relaunch.
“It’s another positive development, but it will have no immediate effect on the Seminole Tribe’s plans,” Gary Bitner said.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs at the federal level did not return messages seeking comment.
While the Seminole Tribe is affected by both lawsuits, it is not a defendant in either one. West Flagler has sued the U.S. Department of the Interior in federal court, arguing they should not have approved the compact. The federal government claims gaming compacts can include language about gaming matters outside of tribal lands and that it cannot reject a compact on those grounds.
Tribal leaders have stated Florida online sports betting should be considered to take place on tribal lands because the servers accepting and processing the wagers are established on tribal lands.
Why The Cases Matter
Florida is the third-most populous state in the country and would instantly become one of the top sports betting markets in the nation if regulated sports betting were to resume there. In addition to online exclusivity statewide, the compact requires the Seminole Tribe to establish “hub-and-spoke” networks with parimutuel operators across the state. The parimutuel operators would take 60% of the revenue generated from bets placed at their venues.
Besides arguing about the constitutionality of online sports betting, the plaintiffs have also contended their businesses would suffer since they would not be able to offer sports betting on their own and could only do so if they were part of the tribe’s hub-and-spoke network.
In return for granting the Seminoles exclusive online sports betting rights, the state is set to receive billions of dollars in revenue in the coming years. Besides the sports betting aspects, which also included retail sportsbooks at its casinos, the 2021 compact also would allow the Seminoles to offer dice-based table games and roulette at its casinos. It also would allow the tribal nation to open new casinos on its sovereign land.