Florida sports betting launch date still uncertain despite Seminoles’ legal win

Bad news for those expecting Hard Rock Sportsbook’s return to Florida in the coming days. Despite scoring last week a major win in its prolonged legal fight over sports betting in the Sunshine State, the Seminole Tribe wouldn’t be able to launch operations in its home market until late August. The wait could be even longer as an appeal could further delay Hard Rock’s digital sports betting product launch for months – if not years.

Last week, sports betting supporters celebrated the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to overturn a lower court ruling. The federal appeals court ordered the Department of Interior to reinstate the compact agreement that gave the Seminole Tribe and its Hard Rock brand a monopoly on the gaming vertical in Florida, making the activity now technically legal once again in the state. However, the fight is far from over.

Under the compact agreement, the Seminoles will have a monopoly on sports betting in the state, which permits the tribe to open retail sportsbooks at its casinos and launch its Hard Rock Sportsbook platform in Florida. However, for that to occur, the court’s ruling must first be put into effect – and when that will happen is a big question yet to be answered.

The launch won’t legally happen before the end of August due to Rule 35 of the circuit court, which means the judgment won’t become a mandate until 45 days after it was issued, reports Sports Handle. When adding a seven-day clerks’ order on the case, the result is that the soonest the mandate would be in effect would be August 21. A launch on that day would be two-and-a-half weeks ahead of the first NFL game of the season.

However, the scenario is highly unlikely given West Flagler and Associates, which first brought the case against the U.S. Department of the Interior, is expected to appeal. Should that occur, the timeline could stretch out by months, if not years. West Flagler, former owner of Magic City Casino and current owner of Bonita Spring Poker Room, has many ways to appeal at its disposal.

The company could appeal to the appellate court to have the case re-heard, either by the original panel or en banc, which would be before all active judges on the court. Under this scenario, the stay issued by the appellate court in December 2021 would remain in effect, meaning the Seminole Tribe would not be able to launch as long as the case is being decided.

The plaintiff could also petition the Supreme Court for certiorari and argue that the case merits review at the nation’s highest court. As it would not be asking for a new hearing in the appellate court, the existing stay would expire. However, it is likely that if West Flagler were to appeal to the Supreme Court, it would also file for an injunction to keep the tribe from launching.

What does the new compact do?

Under its 30-year agreement with the state, the Seminole Tribe is given a monopoly to operate sports betting in Florida. The tribe, which will also be allowed to add roulette and craps to its casino operations, will in return pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years of the agreement.

The court’s move earlier this month reversed a November 2021 decision by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, which invalidated the deal negotiated between the Seminoles and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

West Flagler Associates argued that the Seminoles’ sports betting and casino expansion agreement violated federal Indian gaming law. In order to get around a state constitutional amendment, the compact required the tribe to operate a so-called “hub-and-spoke” model for sports betting. This moved all online sports wagers from players located in Florida, but outside of tribal lands, through the tribe’s servers.

The main issue was whether a patron could place a sports bet that would be accepted by a server that was located on tribal land. In her ruling last year, Friedrich called the theories used to justify the deal “fiction.” For its part, the D.C. Circuit said as long as the bet is received on reservation land, that is good enough.