Judge’s Ban on Florida Mobile Sports Betting Expected to Draw Appeal
Updated Nov. 24
The state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe are expected to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that the recently launched Hard Rock Sportsbook app violates federal law.
District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich’s ruling Monday from Washington, D.C., put a stop to online sports betting across Florida and, at least for now, ended Las Vegas-style gambling expansion at the tribe’s Hard Rock casinos in Broward and Hillsborough counties.
Daniel Wallach, a Florida attorney specializing in gaming, told the Tampa Bay Times that the state and tribe are likely to appeal the ruling and request an immediate stay of the order.
The Tribe is contemplating how it will respond to the ruling.
"The Seminole Tribe is reviewing the judge’s opinion and carefully considering its next steps," Gary Bitner, spokesperson for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, told USA Today.
Tribe’s Sports Betting App Against the Law
In this week’s 25-page memorandum opinion, Friedrich said an earlier compact signed by the state and tribe violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requiring tribal gambling to take place on tribal land.
The Seminole Hard Rock Sportsbook allowed bettors to use smartphones and computers to place sports wagers anywhere in the state, whether on tribal land or not.
That makes the app illegal, the judge said. The Seminole Tribe launched its mobile sports betting app on Nov. 1 with no advance notice or fanfare.
“Because the most recent compact is no longer in effect, continuing to offer online sports betting would violate federal law,” the judge wrote.
Friedrich, a President Trump appointee, wrote that it is “fiction” to claim that mobile sports betting is occurring on tribal land just because that’s where the computer servers are located to process remote bets from anywhere.
Bettors Awaiting Decision
It was unclear Tuesday what would happen to bets already placed on the Hard Rock Sportsbook app, the only online sports-betting app in the nation’s third most populous state, with roughly 22 million residents.
Some social media users tweeted early Tuesday that they have been paid for winning wagers. A Gambling.com reporter living in Florida said on Wednesday the app was accepting bets on the NFL games scheduled for Thanksgiving Day and into the weekend.
The judge’s decision came on the same night that the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by veteran quarterback Tom Brady, were playing a high-profile — and probably heavily bet — Monday night home game against the New York Giants.
The Bucs, favored on Caesars Sportsbook to win by 10.5 points, defeated the Giants 30-10.
Tribal Compact Signed in Spring
Last spring, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the gaming compact with Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. State legislators approved the compact during a special session in May. It later received federal approval.
Lawsuits were filed seeking to stop the tribe from having exclusive rights to mobile sports betting in the state. These lawsuits resulted in the judge’s ruling on Monday.
Ruling Doesn’t Block Future Sports Betting
The federal judge said a prior Supreme Court decision authorizes tribal gaming “on Indian lands, and nowhere else.”
However, Friedrich noted that her decision “does not foreclose other avenues for authorizing online sports betting in Florida," adding that the state and tribe may agree to a new compact allowing online sports betting just on tribal lands.
She added that Floridians can still create a “citizens’ initiative” to authorize mobile sports betting across the state.
Amendment Sought on Sports Betting
A political action committee is already seeking a constitutional amendment to legalize sports wagering at professional sports arenas and other sites in Florida.
The measure will be on the November 2022 ballot if enough signatures are collected and the Florida Supreme Court approves the wording.
The PAC has received $10 million each from online bookmakers DraftKings and FanDuel.
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