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Super Bowl Betting Makes Legal Debut In Florida

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 20 mins

Super Bowl Betting Makes Legal Debut In Florida

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HOLLYWOOD, Florida - For the first time, people in the Sunshine State can legally wager on the Super Bowl. 

Super Bowl 58 kicks off Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET when the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers play for the NFL championship at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. 

Those over 21 located in Florida can bet legally on the game 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. 

Hard Rock does not release figures on its betting handle or gross gaming revenue. But using figures from other states as a baseline, a study by bookies.com finds that Floridians could bet as much as $100 million on Super Bowl 58 before the game is over. 

Florida is the most-populous state in the nation that has legal sports betting with 21.78 million people. Any estimate on overall betting handle limited by the fact that there is just online wagering platform available. In 2023, about $123.8 million was bet on the Super Bowl in New York. That state 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. On Thursday, 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. The move was expected as Friday was the deadline it sought from the court.

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. 

West Flagler Fights In U.S., Florida Supreme Courts

WFA filed its state lawsuit on September 26 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 online portion of the compact was the basis for WFA's dual lawsuits. 

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 allow 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 said it plans to file a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court by November 20. It had hoped the compact would be stayed in the interim. But that is no longer the case. 

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," 

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.

Hard Rock Adds In-Person Betting

The Tribe has set the following schedule for its retail launch: 

📅  February 11: Super Bowl 58 becomes the first Super Bowl upon which Floridians can legally wager,
📅  February 8: 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: Craps, roulette, and sports betting launch at Seminole Casino Immokalee, near Naples, and Seminole Brighton Casino, on the northwest side of Lake Okeechobee. 

It was only a matter of time before the Tribe was going to play its hand in terms of waiting out the lawsuits. 

"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. "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. 

Former Allies Now On Opposite Sides

Now the Tribe and "No Casinos" are on opposite sides.

The PENN-owned, ESPN BET-branded sports book will launch this fall. In a $2 billion deal, 

PENN Entertainment replaced the Barstool Sports brand with ESPN BET on its mobile and retail books across 16 states once they were approved be regulators in each jurisdiction. ESPN BET and ESPN are part of Disney. 

The bifurcation of casino gaming and sports betting is clear in every U.S.-regulated market. When the gaming amendment was passed by Florida voters, the Supreme Court had already opened the door for nationwide sports betting via its PASPA decision. The Tribe has previously stated it intended not to include sports betting in the amendment. 

However, the governor's own lawyers told legislators in 2021 that “because of Amendment 3, commercial sports betting outside of a tribal compact is unconstitutional in Florida.”

What's Next In Florida?

Super Bowl Betting Makes Legal Debut In Florida 3

The Hard Rock Bet added terms of use for people in Florida in the summer. For months, the Tribe has been adding new employees at its Florida casinos to handle craps and roulette, and to work on sports betting.

WFA, which owns the Bonita Springs Poker Room, claimed in its initial lawsuit that the sports betting component of the compact was illegal and would cause a "significant and potentially devastating impact" on their income. 

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.

Possible Legal Scenarios For Florida Betting

Some analysts had believed the Tribe would wait out the courts. Others saw the launch of mobile betting as a matter of time once the compact was formally upheld. 

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?

Super Bowl Betting Makes Legal Debut In Florida 1

Florida is again the largest state in the country with legal sports betting. And likely the most lucrative. More than 21.78 million people live in Florida. That is nearly 2 million more than in New York. 

With just one betting app, the online consumer market in Florida will be 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. 

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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.

Sports bettors in Florida enjoyed 34 days of state-wide betting in 2021 when the Hard Rock app was up and running across the Sunshine State. Unless you happen to be Calvin Ridley, it was great to be in a state where not only was sports betting legal, but you could go to the beach on Christmas Day without freezing to death in the process.

Florida Sportsbetting Timetable: How We Got Here 

📅  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 

The app shut down after Judge Friedrich ruled in November of 2021 that the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act because it allowed wagering to occur off property owned by the Seminoles via the betting app (i.e. anywhere in Florida). She cited the "hub-and-spoke" setup, calling it "fiction." 

In its three-judge ruling, the D.C. Appeals Court overturned her ruling. It determined that the compact satisfied the requirements of the Indian Gaming Rights Act and that the lower court erred in nullifying it. The compact was never formally approved by the Department of the Interior. It took effect after the DOI took no action on it after a 45-day review period. 

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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.

Other Options For Florida Sports Betting

Super Bowl Betting Makes Legal Debut In Florida 2

Florida's largest state budget ever - $116.1 billion - took effect July 1. And not a single penny of that record spending spree came from Florida sports betting revenue.

Many in the legal community and some of those who supported the gaming compact as written and passed knew that the “hub-and-spoke” approach to sports betting was a long shot at best. The Appeals Court found that it was. But the court said the plaintiffs could bring a case in state court. However, it is unlikely the State Supreme Court would overturn a deal brokered by DeSantis and passed by the legislature involving the Tribe.

While the 2021 gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe and Florida languished in federal court, a group called Florida Education Champions pushed to get a measure on the 2022 state ballot legalizing mobile and on-site sports betting.

It was doomed from the start, given that the signature gathering did not begin until June of 2021 during COVID. DraftKings and FanDuel spent more than $36 million on the quixotic effort and the initiative fell more than 370,000 signatures short of the number needed to get on the ballot. The next such effort could come in 2024.

The Tribe remains free to begin retail or limit mobile on-site sports betting on Native American lands – meaning inside the Hard Rock Casinos – at any time.

Compact Shuts Out Other Providers

The compact as passed shuts out other 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.

The failed measure backed by DraftKings and FanDuel has rolled over into the 2024 election cycle. But the signature-gathering effort has reset to zero. Initiatives must receive 891,589 verified signatures to get on the Florida ballot, with a minimum number required in 14 of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

Florida’s monstrous FY 2023-24 state budget includes a 5.38% pay raise for all state employees, bonuses to law enforcement officers, a $15 minimum wage for state workers, new higher base wages for teachers, and multiple tax holidays. The funding includes $31 billion in federal revenue Florida received this year.

The total is slightly higher than the current budget and 20% more than the last pre-pandemic spending plan passed in 2019.

In other words, Florida is flush with cash. That in part helped DeSantis roll to re-election by nearly 20 points in November of 2022.

The argument that “Sports Betting Is Good For The State’s Bottom Line” and “It’s Needed To Fund Education” fell flat in 2022 and could well fall flat again in 2024.

Especially in a presidential election year that could include both Donald Trump and DeSantis in a nasty GOP primary.

$1,000 First Bet on Caesars

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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.