Hard Rock Launches Sportsbook in Florida, Igniting Controversy

While the sportsbook is now accepting bets, the legal framework under which it operates is being challenged in court on Friday.
Hard Rock Launches Sportsbook in Florida, Igniting Controversy
November 02, 2021

The Hard Rock Sportsbook went live this week in Florida, letting state residents bet on sports events legally for the first time. The move was part of the recent Florida-Seminole gaming compact, which faced legal challenges almost as soon as it came into effect.

The beginning of November brought legal online sports betting to Florida for the first as the Hard Rock Sportsbook opened for business. Launched by the Seminole Tribe and Hard Rock Hotels and Casinos, the new online betting platform is partnered with five pari-mutuels to provide online sports betting activities to Floridians.

The new sportsbook went live with little PR or fanfare on November 1, simply posting “Game on, Florida” on its webpage and offering a link to download the new app. But even without the fanfare, the launch did not go unnoticed by rivals and critics.

The compact that allowed the launch seemed destined to face legal challenges from the outset, and sure enough, a suit is being heard on Friday in US District Court in Washington, DC after a September filing. The suit alleges the compact is a clear violation of federal and state laws.

Huge Florida market faces legal challenges

The Florida-Seminole gaming compact represented the beginning of a huge new market. PlayFL.com estimates the agreement could end up generating as much as $12 billion in bets annually.

That did not go unnoticed by critics of the gaming industry. No Casinos, a lobby group opposed to the compact, filed suit in US district court claiming that the compact violates Amendment 3, which Florida voters approved in 2018 that prohibits the expansion of gambling in Florida without a successful ballot initiative.

The compact creates a “spoke-and-hub” system that places servers on Seminole land, which is considered sovereign territory. While Florida lawmakers and the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) have determined that bets placed on a tribal server meet the requirements that gambling only happens on tribal lands, No Casinos claims the online client with access from anywhere in Florida and off-site promotion constitute an expansion of gaming off tribal lands.

The No Casinos suit goes to court on Friday, and the future of the Hard Rock Sportsbook may well be decided by the case, but it is not the only challenge to the new app. Alongside the lawsuit, FanDuel and DraftKings and their PAC, Florida Education Champions, are looking to create some competition as well.

The two giant sportsbooks are running TV ads in Florida trying to get a constitutional amendment on the November 2022 ballot. The amendment calls for gambling to be legalized beyond the compact, allowing companies like FanDuel and DraftKings to get into the market without a tribal partner.

The initiative has created dueling TV campaigns, with the Florida Education Champions PAC claiming it is looking to foster competition, while the Seminole Tribe counters that out-of-state companies are championing the initiative. The initiative needs nearly 900,000 signatures to get onto the ballot.

The new Hard Rock Sportsbook is now live and available to download. It was live in time for Monday’s NFL game between the New York Giants and the Kansas City Chiefs, but it will face significant challenges in the near future, both from a legal perspective and from potential competitors. Floridians may get some clarification after Friday’s hearing, but the full picture will likely take months to fully take shape.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling (VACPG) helpline at 1-888-532-3500

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