Hard Rock Suddenly Starts Taking Sports Bets Online In Florida

Written By Derek Helling on November 1, 2021 - Last Updated on March 31, 2023
florida sports betting launch

On Monday morning, the Hard Rock Florida Sportsbook presented an “homage” of sorts to a popular Billy Ocean song, Suddenly.

Suddenly, it was.

Sports bettors in Florida, of legal age, have access to the first online betting app available statewide.

In the vein of things we never take notice of, the Seminole Tribe‘s digital gaming company Hard Rock Digital started taking bets online in FL through the Hard Rock app with no build-up or fanfare. The question now becomes how much longer that will be the case.

What to know about the Hard Rock Florida sportsbook

Currently, it seems the only way to access the sportsbook in the Sunshine State is on the app. Reports have it working well on iOS devices, but some Android users are encountering some issues with depositing funds.

Currently, the only known new user offer is a $100 bonus bet. But customers would only know that by seeking out the app.

That goes along with the theme of this development. Neither Hard Rock Digital (HRD) nor the Seminole Tribe tipped their hands about an upcoming launch.

The new gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe took effect on Oct. 15. That was the first day Hard Rock could have accepted bets, but no activity has happened until today, Nov. 1. That’s when hopeful sports betting customers noticed the app was fully operational.

Although Hard Rock and the Seminole Tribe were mum on any intention to begin accepting wagers Monday over the past two weeks, they weren’t completely idle. They did secure some critical collaborations with other gambling entities in the state.

Hard Rock recruits pari-mutuel marketing partners

Part of the new gaming compacts incentivized Hard Rock’s sharing the sports betting business in FL. The compact terms essentially traded a lower tax rate for Hard Rock paying pari-mutuel gambling operators in the state to market the sportsbook.

Hard Rock has already surpassed its necessary action to trigger that clause. Last week, HRD announced such contracts with five establishments in FL that currently offer wagering on horse races. To activate a lower 13.75% tax rate, HRD only needed to enlist three.

The first five pari-mutuels to sign on are:

  • Hialeah Park Casino
  • Ocala Gainesville Poker and Breeder’s Sales Company
  • Palm Beach Kennel Club
  • Tampa Bay Downs
  • TGT Poker & Racebook

Those businesses will keep 60% of the revenue they generate for HRD through its app. HRD will keep the other 40%. It’s unclear how many other pari-mutuels in FL will close similar deals. What’s for certain, however, is that at least one intends to refrain from doing so for the foreseeable future.

Federal lawsuit seeking to block FL sports betting still ongoing

West Flagler Associates, which operates both the Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino, has signaled no intent to drop its remaining complaint that seeks to overturn the new status quo.

Last month, a federal judge dismissed one of their lawsuits. The other, which argues against the US Department of the Interior’s approval of the gaming compact, is still being litigated. Should that complaint succeed, it could potentially send the state and the tribe back to the drawing board.

At the heart of West Flagler’s arguments is the federal government’s handling of online gambling. The plaintiffs contend that federal law restricts such gaming under tribal auspices to sovereign lands only. The defendants have argued that because the computer servers that the online sportsbook runs on are located on sovereign lands, it satisfies the requirement regardless of where bettors are when they access the app and place their bets.

The next hearing in that case is Nov. 5. The candor and perhaps the arguments might differ now that the Hard Rock app is actively taking bets. Another facet of this situation that this news might affect is an attempt to expand operator access.

What about the ballot initiative petition in FL?

Since mid-July, a political action committee (PAC) called Florida Education Champions has been circulating a petition for registered FL voters. The FL constitution allows the state’s voters to amend it with a ballot process directly.

The PAC aims to have a question put on the ballot for voters statewide in the 2022 election. To be considered for placement on the ballot, a petition must gather at least 891,589 signatures from registered FL voters. Those signatures must represent at least 14 of the state’s 27 US Congressional districts.

As of the last update, the state had verified just under 67,000 signatures. If ultimately successful, the new constitutional amendment could undo much of the current gaming compact terms and reset Florida sports betting. Proponents of Florida gambling will hope for this to expand sports betting beyond Hard Rock.

For the time being, however, Hard Rock is taking bets online in FL through its app. Bettors will get to decide whether they’re suddenly in love or will look for possible changes in the future.

JR Duren contributed to this report.

Photo by Dreamstime.com
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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