Nearly two years after it shuttered, online sports betting returned to the Sunshine State.
The Florida online sports betting market returned Tuesday morning without any advanced notice. The Seminole Tribe relaunched the Hard Rock Florida online sportsbook, making it the only legal online sportsbook in the state.
It marks a major victory for the tribe in the legal battle surrounding the 2021 Florida gaming compact.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the tribe agreed to the deal in April 2021. It was passed by the legislature a few months later.
The highlight of the compact was a legal Florida sports betting industry run mostly by the Seminole Tribe. However, it also allowed for craps and roulette at Seminole-owned casinos. Additionally, pari-mutuels could spread certain house-backed card games.
The rumors were true. Online sports betting came early
Last week, the Seminoles announced they would open brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, as well as craps and roulette, in early December.
But a local radio host posted on X, formerly Twitter, that he was told online sports betting would come first. There was no mention of online sports betting in the announcement and the tribe never confirmed the rumor.
An official announcement never came. Instead, the Hard Rock Bet X account posted a gif of former WWE wrestler The Undertaker emerging from a fiery casket.
— Hard Rock Bet (@HardRockBet) November 7, 2023
The post certainly lacked any specific details about the relaunch. But what it lacked in specificity, it made up for in symbolism.
Hard Rock Bet comes back from the dead
This is actually the second stint of legal online sports betting in Florida.
In 2021, the tribe initially launched the app in November. The move came just a few months after the federal government approved the compact in August.
But the first run was short-lived.
The ownership group of two pari-mutuels, West Flagler Associates, filed several lawsuits after the state passed the deal.
The compact gave the Seminoles nearly total control over the sports betting industry. They had exclusivity over the online betting market and were nearly in total control of the retail industry.
Through the “hub-and-spoke” model, pari-mutuels could operate brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. But they were forced to give 40% of their profits to the Seminoles. The tribe would pay part of that to the state in revenue-sharing payments and the pari-mutuels could keep the rest tax-free.
But West Flagler argued that this model violated federal standards and unfairly hurt their business.
About three weeks after the first launch, a federal judge agreed with West Flagler. U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled the deal violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
As a result, the tribe shuttered its operation and entered into a multi-year legal battle with West Flagler in the federal court system.
D.C. Court of Appeals saves Florida gaming compact
The federal government, West Flagler, and the Seminole Tribe spent all of 2022 filing appeals with the D.C. Court of Appeals. It culminated with oral arguments last December.
After six months of deliberation, the three-judge panel unanimously overturned Friedrich’s ruling at the end of June.
West Flagler filed for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court, which would keep the tribe from relaunching the app. But at the end of October, Chief Justice John Roberts denied the request.
That cleared the way for today’s Hard Rock Bet revival.
Which sports can you bet on in Florida?
There are very few restrictions when it comes to Florida sports betting.
Hard Rock can take wagers on any professional or collegiate sport available. There are no restrictions on in-state colleges.
The first Florida-based team available to wager on is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They square off against the Montreal Canadiens tonight at 7 p.m. in Montreal.