Massachusetts Launched Online Sports Betting. Is Florida On Deck?

Written By Steve Schult on March 14, 2023
Is Florida next to launch online sports betting?

Last Friday, Massachusetts launched its online sports betting market. After releasing brick-and-mortar sports betting at the end of January, regulators brought online betting to the market just in time for March Madness.

The Bay State became the 19th state with legal online sports betting. Washington, D.C. allows it as well. When Maine launches its market, the U.S. will have 21 jurisdictions with online betting.

In total, 35 states and the nation’s capital either have sports betting or passed legislation allowing it.

But what about the Sunshine State? When does Florida sports betting return? Is it the next to launch? Maybe.

Appellate court will decide Florida sports betting fate

Nearly five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned PASPA. As a result, states could choose whether or not sports betting is legal within its borders.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest appellate court in the land. If a lawsuit gets appealed enough, eventually, it will make its way to the nine-judge panel in D.C.

However, the equivalent of a state supreme court holds will decide how quickly sports betting is available in Florida.

The D.C. Court of Appeals is currently hearing the issue. The three-judge panel is the highest court for the District of Columbia. If either party wanted to take the issue further, the Supreme Court must hear the case.

In May 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe agreed to a new, 30-year gaming compact. The agreement would expand gaming options at both Seminole-owned casinos and Florida pari-mutuels.

But most notably, it would allow Floridians to wager on sports.

Pari-mutuels objected to sports betting model

The deal used a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model to structure the Florida sports betting market. It gave the Seminoles a basic monopoly over the industry.

Any pari-mutuel that operates a retail sportsbook must do so as a vendor of the Seminoles. The tribe would get 40% of the pari-mutuel’s sports betting revenue. Furthermore, they had exclusivity over the online sports betting industry.

The Florida legislature passed the compact and the Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland approved it through inaction.

Then, the lawsuits came in.

The ownership group of a pair of Florida pari-mutuels believed the model was illegal. West Flagler Associates, which owned Magic City Casino in Miami and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwestern Florida, filed suits at state and federal courts.

A judge in Tallahassee threw their state-level case out of court. But a federal judge opted to hear it.

Circuit court judge squashes sports betting

Meanwhile, the Seminole Tribe moved ahead with their sports betting operation. At the start of November, the tribe began accepting wagers with their online sportsbook.

But it was short-lived.

At the end of the month, Judge Dabney Fredrich of the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Since wagers could be placed with a tribal entity from anywhere in the state, Friedrich ruled the compact violated federal standards.

Consequently, the Seminoles shuttered their sportsbook and the compact was invalidated. The tribe and the federal government spent all of 2022 appealing Friedrich’s ruling.

What are the chances of a reversal?

Before last December, most outspoken legal experts leaned towards the side of the court upholding Friedrich’s ruling. Oral arguments shifted the prevailing train of thought.

John Holden, a law professor at Oklahoma State University and PlayFL’s legal expert, said that most people he spoke with believed the judges appeared open to the federal government’s arguments.

Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Boca Raton, believes Friedrich issued an incorrect ruling. Jarvis said he always thought her ruling would be overturned.

It’s impossible to predict what their decision will be. But the legal community is starting to believe that a reversal is more likely than a year ago.

Well… Is Florida next?

If the D.C. Court of Appeals decides to overturn Friedrich’s original ruling, then yes, Florida would be the next state with sports betting.

Maine and Nebraska are the only states that passed legislation but have yet to launch. Maine did so in August 2022, while Nebraska passed its bill in 2021.

It’s extremely unlikely either market will start accepting wagers this year.

On the other hand, the D.C. Court of Appeals will definitely decide before the year’s end. We will likely hear from the court in the next by mid-2023.

If the court decides Friedrich was wrong, the compact will restart instantly. That ruling would result in the compact becoming law of the land, and the Seminole Tribe would certainly start accepting sports bets again.

If the court upholds Friedrich’s decision, Maine will be the next player in the game.

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Steve Schult

As Managing Editor of PlayFL, Steve will stay on top of all things related to the Florida gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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