Online Casinos Could Pave Way For Commercial Sportsbooks In Florida

Written By Steve Schult on April 30, 2024
A 'Welcome to Florida' sign

The Seminole Tribe has exclusivity over the Sunshine State’s online sports betting industry. However, if further gambling expansion happens, that could bring about fundamental change.

If lawmakers legalize Florida online casinos, they could pave the way for commercial operators to enter the fray.

In other words, Florida bettors would have more than just Hard Rock Bet Florida. They could also have options like FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars Sportsbook, or BetMGM.

Seminole Tribe open to other companies

Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen told PlayUSA that his company would push for online casino expansion as long as the courts affirm the current Florida sports betting model.

Hard Rock International is the corporate structure for the Seminole Tribe’s gaming operations outside Florida.

Additionally, Allen said his company would allow commercial operators to enter the Florida market if the expansion happens.

“I don’t think we’ve ever stated we wouldn’t work with some of the other companies, whether it be Caesars or MGM, or DraftKings or FanDuel. So we’ve always stated that we’d be receptive to the conversation.”

This is in stark contrast to what appeared to be the tribe’s attitude in 2022 when commercial operators funded a ballot initiative that would allow them into Florida. Ultimately, those efforts failed, and the tribe had exclusivity over the market thanks to the 2021 Florida gaming compact.

“Certainly in the early days when they were spending significant amounts of money to block any potential moving forward, I’m not going to say those days are behind us but I think right now there is a much better relationship from a communication standpoint. I’m sure every one of the companies would like to be in Florida, and we respect that.”

Hard Rock competes with those companies in every other state they operate in besides Florida.

Unlike other states, Hard Rock has first-mover advantage in FL

DraftKings and FanDuel dominate most non-Florida markets. Hard Rock Bet competes with those two giants in Arizona, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Hard Rock’s revenue in those states is dwarfed by the daily fantasy sports giants.

But if those companies entered the Florida market, they would do so after Hard Rock had a massive head start.

The Seminoles launched their online sportsbook for three weeks in November 2021. Then, a federal judge ruled in favor of a pari-mutuel ownership group that sued over the compact, arguing it violated federal standards.

A lengthy legal battle ensued, but the DC Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the tribe last summer. As a result, Hard Rock Bet relaunched in November 2023.

Floridians have had a combined seven months without another sports betting option. And since West Flagler Associates, the plaintiffs in the case, are appealing the ruling to the US Supreme Court, it could be a while longer before anything changes.

Even with the quickest resolution in the court system, Hard Rock Bet will have a roughly two-year head start over any potential competition.

That’s ignoring the fact that they have name recognition from their six brick-and-mortar casinos, another industry where they have exclusivity.

On the other hand, FanDuel and DraftKings are operating their daily fantasy sports contests in Florida. They aren’t strangers to Florida bettors.

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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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