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Florida Sports Betting: 3 DFS Operators Cease Pick 'Em Games

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 18 mins

Florida Sports Betting: 3 DFS Operators Cease Pick 'Em Games

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HOLLYWOOD, Florida - While the ultimate fate of Florida sports betting remains in front of both the U.S. and State of Florida Supreme Courts, the Florida Gaming Control Commission has forced 3 daily fantasy sports operators who offer daily "pick 'em" fantasy sports games to shut down all or parts of their operations here. 

Betr and Prize Picks have completely ceased operations in the state as of Friday. Underdog Sports is no longer offering daily "pick 'em" games, but is still offering its traditional fantasy fare.

This reporter entered two different "Fast Break Friday" fantasy drafts on the Underdog Fantasy site in Florida Friday morning. Other traditional fantasy operators, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, remain available in Florida. 

The "cease and desist" letters, sent in September 2023 and again on January 31, said the companies offered "illegal bets or wagers from [Florida] residents." 

Betr Holdings, Inc. is based in Miami. Underdog Sports, LLC, is based in Brooklyn. SidePrize LLC (Prize Picks) is based in Atlanta.

Betr has yet to offer any comment since the final set of "cease and desist" letters were sent on January 31. 

An Underdog Sports spokesman told bookies.com that the operator hopes to return. All remaining funds can be withdrawn by Florida customers at any time. 

PrizePicks also said customers in Florida can withdraw any funds, and that their accounts remain open despite the shutdown of the pick ’em-style contests. The company is “working with policymakers to bring greater clarity” to the laws concerning fantasy play. 

There remains a rift in the industry and among regulators about the difference between traditional sports betting prop wagers and the daily "pick 'em" games offered by the three above operators and others. 

A Fantasy Sports Bill (SB 1568) remains in front of the Florida State Senate this session. It and a companion piece of legislation would require the Florida Gaming Control Commission to provide "application requirements for fantasy sports contest operator licenses; requiring a contest operator to implement specified consumer protection procedures; requiring contest operators to keep and maintain certain records for a specified period." 

Florida Potentially Top 4 Sports Betting State In U.S. 

Florida Sports Betting: 3 DFS Operators Cease Pick 'Em Games 2

Those over 21 located in Florida can bet legally on the sports via the Hard Rock Bet app, run by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Tribe is also offering retail sports betting at its Hard Rock casinos in the state. 

State economists project the Florida Gaming Compact that enables sports betting will deliver more than $340 million in tax revenue to Florida during the fiscal year that ends June 30.  Overall, Economists at the Revenue Estimating Conference met last week and projected the state to receive $4.43 billion over the next six years.

Of course, not all of that money is from sports betting. The revenues from the compact encompass all gaming revenues from the Tribe, including money from slot machines, table games, card games, craps, and roulette. 

The economists project the Tribe's taxable gross gaming revenue (GGR) from sports betting to be $407.8 million this fiscal year, and $750.2 million in the first full-fiscal year of betting that runs from July 1, 2024, to June 30, 2025. 

Using the industry average GGR of about 8%, the Tribe's handle in its first fiscal year of betting could reach $9.5 billion. Based on the 2023 handle numbers, that would make Florida the No. 4 state in the nation in terms of sports betting handle, behind only New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. But ahead of Nevada.

Hard Rock Bet App Running But Legal Fight Continues

Hard Rock does not release figures on its betting handle or gross gaming revenue. 

Florida is the most-populous state in the nation that has legal sports betting with 21.78 million people. 

New York has 19.84 million people but features a competitive sports betting market with 9 legal sportsbooks. They include DraftKings and FanDuel, which combine to control about 60% of the U.S. legal sports betting market. 

Legal Florida sports betting re-launched in November 2023 following a two-year fight in federal court over the legality of the deal that launched betting here in 2021. The Hard Rock Bet app was shuttered in late 2021 after a 34-day run following the decision of a federal judge. 

Since the Hard Rock Bet app returned, multiple wagers totaling or paying $1 million have been made by bettors inside Florida. One bettor won $5.5 million on a $500,000, four-leg NFL parlay in Week 10.  

West Flagler Associates Files Writ of Certiorari

The most recent immediate federal legal threat has been shelved until later this year. West Flagler Associates submitted its writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court for it to hear its case against the Department of Interior concerning the Florida Gaming Compact in February. The Court has yet to decide whether to hear the case. 

WFA wants SCOTUS to hear the case that was initially filed two years ago. A lower federal court ruling halted sports betting in Florida in the fall of 2021. That ruling was subsequently overturned earlier this fall.

WFA sought the delay, in part, so it could see how the Florida Supreme Court rules in a related case concerning the gaming compact between the State of Florida and Seminole Tribe. WFA sought a stay from the Florida Supreme Court in that case last week, but was denied. 

It remains to be seen if the Tribe will agree to abide by any Florida State Supreme Court ruling since it is not subject to state law, only the Indian Gaming Rights Act. 

In May 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Osceola signed a 30-year compact that allowed for statewide mobile sports betting via the Seminole Tribe's Hard Rock betting app, now known as the Hard Rock Bet app.

Jon Bon Jovi, Sofia Vergara, Mike Tyson, and Dwyane Wade all walked the red carpet on December 7 at the Hard Rock as the Tribe began operating its new casino table games and its in-person book in South Florida under the 2021 Florida Gaming Compact. The inclusion of craps and roulette at the Hard Rock casinos has been an oft-overlooked part of the $500 million, 30-year compact. 

The compact shuts out other sports betting providers. A unified effort between DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Penn/Barstool, Caesars Sportsbook and others would be the wisest path to follow if these providers ever hope to enter the lucrative Florida market.

A failed measure backed by DraftKings and FanDuel rolled over into the 2024 election cycle but will not make the cut for this year's ballot, either. 

Fights Continues In U.S., Florida Supreme Courts

WFA filed its state lawsuit on September 26, 2023 in Tallahassee against DeSantis and the Florida Legislature. WFA cited a constitutional amendment passed in 2018 that prohibits the expansion of "casino gaming" off Indian lands. 

WFA subsequently updated its filing in its state lawsuit on October 27 including some of the language from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh cited above saying that the compact could violate the IGRA. 

On October 25,  the U.S. Supreme Court allowed an appeals-court ruling to take effect that reinstates the 2021 gaming compact allowing the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer craps and roulette in its casinos, in-person sports betting, and online betting through the app.

That decision denied a stay sought by WFA and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., who have sued in both federal and state court to block the gaming compact that would pay the state $500 million per year, including roughly $50 million for sports betting. 

“The Seminole Tribe thanks the State of Florida, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Department of Justice for defending our Compact.  By working together, the Tribe, the State, and the federal government achieved a historic legal victory,” Osceola said in a statement Nov. 1 

The "hub-and-spoke" online betting portion of the compact was the basis for WFA's dual lawsuits. It allows state-wide betting because the servers handling the transactions are based on Indian lands. 

The Tribe filed an amicus brief with Florida Supreme Court on December 8. It reaffirmed the the argument made by the DeSantis administration a week earlier that Amendment 3 does not prohibit the current "hub and spoke" mobile sports betting set-up in Florida. 

The Tribe Not Legal Party To Either Case

The Tribe is not a party to either the federal or state case. 

Chief Justice John Roberts on October 12 stayed a ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that had reversed a lower court ruling and allowed the compact to take effect. The ruling on October 25 lifted that stay. 

That meant there was nothing legally preventing the Tribe from enacting its end of the compact, despite a continuing case in front of the Florida Supreme Court. 

WFA initially sued the Department of Interior in 2021 claiming that it erred in allowing the compact to initially take effect. The DOI governs all Indian gaming nationwide through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Gaming Rights Act (IGRA). 

That state lawsuit was filed in the Florida State Supreme Court by WFA claiming Gov. DeSantis and the state legislature violated the Florida Constitution when they approved the deal with the Tribe two years ago. The Florida Supreme Court has given the state Solicitor General until December 1 to file its response to that lawsuit.

Possible New Federal Law Suit

Florida gaming law attorney Daniel Wallach had posted on X that "a ruling on a stay is an early barometer of the ‘cert-worthiness’ of the case," He subsequently filed an amicus brief with SCOTUS on this case. 

Four of the nine justices on the Court must agree to grant a writ of certiorari and allow the full Court to hear the case. 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared to leaning in that direction. 

"If the compact authorized the Tribe to conduct off-reservation gaming operations, either directly or by deeming off-reservation gaming operations to somehow be on-reservation, then the compact would likely violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act," he wrote.

Kavanaugh also out a possible roadmap for another lawsuit at the federal level in his brief, one that could determine the legality of a 2018 amendment that prohibited gaming statewide without voter approval, and limited the expansion of "casino gaming" to the Seminole Tribe. 

"Justice Kavanaugh’s statement could prompt West Flagler to file another lawsuit in federal court challenging the Florida statute granting the Seminole Tribe a sports betting monopoly as a violation of the equal protection clause," Wallach posted on X.

Florida Sports Betting Timeline: How We Got Here?  

📅  February 29: Three fantasy sports operators - betr, Prize Picks, and Underdog Sports - halt their daily single-player pick' em games after receving "cease and desist" letters from the state.

📅  February 20: Economists estimate the Hard Rock Bet app and its related retail sports books could generate as much as $750 million in gross gaming renvenue in its first full fiscal-year of operation.

📅  February 11: Super Bowl 58 becomes the first Super Bowl upon which Floridians can legally wager.

📅  February 8, 2024: West Flagler files writ of Writ of Certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court.

📅  December 7: Craps, roulette, and sports betting launch at all three Seminole Casinos in South Florida: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, Seminole Classic Casino in Hollywood, and Seminole Casino Coconut Creek.

📅  December 8: Craps, roulette, and sports betting Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa

📅  December 11, 2023: Craps, roulette, and sports betting launch at Seminole Casino Immokalee, near Naples, and Seminole Brighton Casino, on the northwest side of Lake Okeechobee. 

📅  November 8, 2023: West Flagler Associates seeks expedited ruling and stay from Florida Supreme Court

📅  November 7, 2023: Hard Rock App relaunches in Florida after a nearly two-year hiatus. 

📅  November 2023: Tribe announces "New Era In Florida Gaming" with craps, roulette, and in-person betting starting in December.

📅  November 2023: West Flagler Associates is expected to file a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking in to hear its case against the DOI.

📅  October 2023:  U.S. Supreme Court denies a stay on the U.S. District Court of Appeals decision to reinstate the compact. allowing it to take effect.

📅  October 2023: The appeals court orders Friedrich to vacate her decision, officially reinstating the compact.

📅  September 2023: Court of Appeals denies request for full en banc hearing. 

📅  June 2023: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturns Federal Judge Dabney L. Friedrich's reversal of the compact.

📅  February 2023: West Flagler Associates sells Magic City Casino.

📅  December 2022:  A 3-judge federal appeals court hears an appeal of Friedrich's decision that overturned the compact.

📅  January 2022: Appeal of Friedrich's decision filed by the Department of Interior in the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit.

📅  November 2021: Betting on the Tribe's app halted after 34 days. 

📅  November 2021: Friedrich overturns compact, calling parts of it "fiction." 

📅  October 2021: Sports betting begins statewide via the Tribe's Hard Rock betting app. It has since been re-branded to Hard Rock Bet.

📅  August 2021: Multiple state and federal lawsuits are filed to overturn the compact, including two by West Flagler Associates.

📅  May 2021: DeSantis and Tribe Chairman Osceola sign a 30-year, $500 million-per-year gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida after it is approved in a special session of the Florida Legislature. The deal allows for statewide sports betting via Seminole Tribe's 

"Tribe feels confident that it will both win the remaining lawsuits (I agree) and will not offend any judge or justice who has not yet weighed in by restarting its operation in the meantime (I’m not so sure)," said Florida attorney and Shephard Broad School of Law professor Bob Jarvis last fall. "Clearly, this decision was made with input from, or at least the support of, the State of Florida.  And it will make for a fun-filled New Year’s, especially as the Tribe’s operation will be up in time to take bets on the Super Bowl and March Madness."

State Supreme Court Lawsuit  

"No Casinos" groups have filed an amicus brief with to make their case against the same gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The compact briefly allowed mobile sports betting throughout Florida in 2021. 

The case could only be brought directly to the Florida Supreme Court if it concerns a constitutional violation committed by a state official or body. Thus, the WFA did not include the Tribe in its state lawsuit. 

"I have no doubt that West Flagler will ask the Florida Supreme Court to stay the Seminoles’ plans.  It will be interesting to see if the Tribe has read the tea leaves correctly in predicting that such a stay will not be granted. I think the chances of the Florida Supreme Court granting a stay are 50-50," Jarvis said.

Amendment 3 (now Article X, Section 30 of the Florida Constitution) passed in 2018 prohibits the legislature from enabling any new "casino gaming" – save for a compact with the Seminole Tribe. It requires 60% approval by the public in a statewide election to expand "casino gaming." It makes no mention of "sports betting." 

"No Casinos" authored the amendment. That group then worked with Disney and the Tribe, who financed the push for its pass. The Tribe spent more than $24 million of the $46 million raised to back the amendment, state election financial records show. With Disney spending more than $11 million. 

What's Next In Florida?

Florida Sports Betting: 3 DFS Operators Cease Pick 'Em Games 3

The legal challenge to online sports betting in Florida under this deal centered around the so-called "hub-and-spoke" approach. Under the compact, the Tribe has a monopoly on online and mobile gaming. It would use servers based on Tribal lands (the "Hub"). However, those over 21 located anywhere within the state are able to wager (the "Spoke"). 

In addition to sports betting via the Hard Rock app and at its casinos, roulette, and craps in the Seminole Tribe’s casinos, the compact calls for the Tribe to work out licensing deals with at least three parimutuel license holders to operate retail books. And it allows the Tribe to place betting kiosks off-site at places such as Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

The Tribe currently has casinos in Okeechobee, Coconut Creek, Hollywood, Immokalee, Clewiston, and Tampa. The compact allows them to open "three additional facilities" east of its Hollywood Reservation.

Jarvis said in September the following legal scenario would play out. 

  • WFA will file a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court in February
  • The U.S. Supreme Court will deny the petition by the end of its term
  • WFA's lawsuit in Florida state court challenging the Seminoles’ right to do so based on Amendment 3 will eventually be dismissed and the Seminoles will finally then be able to use the Hard Rock app for good

"This could go fast or take a year or two depending on how far up the appeals ladder the state case goes," he said. 

 Wallach believes the U.S. Supreme Court might take up the Florida case because of the impact it carries elsewhere. Wallach told The News Service of Florida that the case "checks at least three of the boxes indicative" of a Supreme Court review:

  • The decision is "in conflict" with rulings from other federal appellate courts
  • It's "arguably in conflict with the Supreme Court’s own precedent" 
  • It involves an "important question of federal law that has not been, but should be settled," by the Court

Again, the issue is whether or not the "hub-and-spoke" wagering is taking place on or off Native American lands. Wallach said at least eight other appeals courts have determined that IGRA does not apply to "to off-reservation tribal gaming activities." 

What Florida Sports Betting Looks Like?

Florida Sports Betting: 3 DFS Operators Cease Pick 'Em Games 1

With just one betting app, the online consumer market in Florida is somewhat less competitive than it is elsewhere. The Hard Rock app met with generally positive reviews in the Sunshine State. It offers similar odds to its competitors elsewhere. The app currently operates in Arizona, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Florida has two MLB teams, two MLS clubs, three NFL franchises, two NHL squads, and two NBA franchises. The state has long been a college hotbed, thanks to the University of Florida, Florida State, and the University of Miami. Both the "U" and Florida Atlantic University reached the NCAA Men's Final Four in 2023. 

MASS APPEAL: Massachusetts Sports Betting Update

The compact requires the Tribe to franchise betting retail, on-site betting rights to at three of the state's parimutuel operators. The parimutuel operators would be free to partner with any operator to run their retail books, such as DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM. In return, the operators would pay the Tribe 40% of their net winnings.

WFA claims the compact caused a "potentially devastating" impact on their casino and poker businesses. The "No Casinos" group said the compact violated the state's constitutional prohibition on gambling expansion off Native American lands without a referendum.

The company sold the Miami Magic City Casino for an estimated $600 million to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians from Alabama in February.

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About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.