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Seminole Tribe Suspends Its Florida Sports Betting Operations

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 4 mins

Seminole Tribe Suspends Its Florida Sports Betting Operations

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Online Florida sports betting came to a halt on Saturday, as the Seminole Tribe of Florida suspended all action on its Hard Rock Sportsbook app.

The betting app stopped taking action on any events starting after 11 a.m. ET. All wagers on events that begin after that time are voided and will be refunded, the Tribe said. The move to shutter the app comes one day after a federal appeals court denied the Tribe’s request for stay in a lower court ruling that invalidated the gambling compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe.

The court decision was third such defeat for legalized mobile sports betting in the Sunshine State after the app went online quietly on Nov. 1. A 30-year gaming compact between the state and Tribe was allowed to go into effect by the Department of Interior during the summer after being passed by the state legislature in May. During the app’s brief run, Florida was the most-populous state with legal mobile sports betting.

A pair of lawsuits were filed to invalidate the compact. The suits claimed the compact violated the Indian Gaming Rights Act and a constitutional amendment in Florida that banned the expansion of gaming in the state off Indian lands without approval of 60% of the state’s voters.

The Tribe kept the app running after a U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich invalidated the compact on Nov. 23 and refused a request for a stay filed by the Tribe the next day. Friday’s ruling was the third “strike” against the compact in court since Judge Friedrich agreed to hear arguments in the case from the plaintiffs and the Department of Interior on Nov. 9.

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Hard Rock App ‘Temporarily Suspends Operations’

In making the announcement, The Seminole Tribe said “Hard Rock Sportsbook will temporarily suspend operations of its mobile app in Florida” as a result of the Appeals Court decision denying a stay in the case. Bettors are able to withdraw any funds in their accounts, the Tribe said. The move halted betting on the day’s college conference championship games and the upcoming Week 13 NFL Sunday and Monday schedule.

Although the app was running for 34 days, bettors in Florida only had three opportunities to wager live on the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, going 2-1 outright and ATS.

”The Seminole Tribe looks forward to working with the State of Florida and the U.S. Department of Justice to aggressively defend the validity of the 2021 Compact before the Appeals Court, which has yet to rule on the merits of the 2021 Compact,” the Tribe said in a statement Saturday.

”The Seminole Tribe of Florida, the State of Florida and the United States have taken the position that the 2021 Compact is legal,” the Tribe added.

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Sports Betting Goes 0-3 In Court

That compact had legalized both in-person and online Florida sports betting but immediately drew legal challenges because of its controversial “hub and spoke” system.

The system allows the Tribe to accept mobile wagers from anywhere in the state on its Hard Rock betting app using servers on Indian lands, as well as operate sportsbooks on tribal land. It was without precedent, and the 30-year compact was invalidated by Judge Friedrich, who also denied a subsequent stay request of her ruling on the night before Thanksgiving.

The judge ruled the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Her ruling stated that all sports betting in the state needed to halt until a new compact was agreed upon, one that did not contain the online betting component, or until voters in Florida approved legal online sports betting via a ballot referendum.

The 2-1 ruling Friday by the Federal Court of Appeals said the Seminole Tribe had not “satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending appeal."

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Options For Sports Betting In Florida?

There are three paths for legal sports betting in Florida in the future.

One is for the Tribe to prevail in court. It will take several months for the Appeals Court to hear the case, if it chooses to do so.

The state and tribe could also come to an agreement that would pass muster with both the Department of Interior and the courts in regard to the Indian Gaming Rights Act. That would likely mean a compact that only allows brick-and-mortar and/or online betting on Indian lands only. That would also fit under the provision of Florida law since the expansion of gaming would be limited to Indian lands.

The third way would be through a ballot initiative. A measure backed financially by DraftKings and FanDuel sportsbook to the tune of more than $32 million lags well behind the 891,589 signatures needed before Feb. 1 to appear on the November 2022 Florida ballot.

As of Saturday, 153,044 signatures to get the Fan Duel/DraftKings-back petition have been deemed valid.

Florida voters passed Amendment 3 in 2018, which banned the expansion of gambling in Florida off Indians lands without the approval of 60% of Florida voters via a referendum question that was generated by citizen’s initiative and not the legislature.

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.