The legislative process towards legal sports betting in Florida has been far from linear and the prognostication seems to be changing by the day. On Friday, a District of Columbia appellate court dealt another blow to the Seminole Tribe of Florida with a ruling against a requested stay of ruling from the District Court’s prior ruling against the Tribe. As a result, the Seminole Tribe was forced to suspend its recently launched Hard Rock Sportsbook, and it seems that it could be several months before a real resolution is reached in the state of Florida.
Lack of Proof of Irreparable Harm
On November 22, Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the US District Court ruled that the gaming compact agreed upon between the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida violated federal Indian gaming law. The Seminole Tribe had requested a stay of the ruling, which Friedrich initially declined before it was requested with the appellate court in Washington D.C. A three-judge panel on the US Court of Appeals ruled that the emergency motion for a stay of the ruling be denied as it had not satisfied the “stringent requirements for a stay pending appeal.”
The Seminole Tribe cited “irreparable harm” to the Tribe’s economic interests due to the level of investment already made into sports betting infrastructure. The Tribe told the court that it has already spent over $25 million on the development of its online Hard Rock Sportsbook, made two $37.5 million revenue-sharing payments to the state, and hired hundreds of employees. However, the standard of “irreparable harm” was not met and West Flagler Associates accused the tribe of being “disingenuous with the court” over this particular allegation.
US Court of Appeals Implications
After the US Court of Appeals denied the stay of the ruling, the Seminole Tribe was faced with an unfortunate situation where it could either shut down its sportsbook or be faced with significant penalties including sanctions, fines, and limits on vendors per Daniel Wallach, a sports betting law expert based in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. If the Tribe had decided not to halt its sportsbook, it would have been up to the United States Department of Justice, the National Indian Gaming Commission, or Friedrich herself to take action to force the Tribe to shut down the site. Wallach expressed that “every bet [following the ruling] could face the risk of operating in defiance of a federal court ruling.”
Hard Rock Sportsbook Suspended
On Saturday, Hard Rock Sportsbook announced that it had decided to “temporarily suspend operations” following the ruling from the Court of Appeals. Hard Rock Sportsbook had originally launched in defiance of the ongoing lawsuits facing the Seminole Tribe, but the recent developments have forced it to go back on the initial launch. One has to wonder whether or not the Seminole Tribe would have been seen in a more gracious light by the courts if it had not acted somewhat recklessly in launching the site before the legal determinations were made. All bets for events after 11:00 AM on Saturday were voided, including all futures. Player funds were made “safe and secure” and withdrawable, and free bets will be retired to players “if Hard Rock Sportsbook begins accepting bets again.”
Future Legal Battles
While Hard Rock Sportsbook was “temporarily suspended,” the Seminole Tribe is not done fighting in favor of its gaming compact. The Tribe said it is planning on working closely with the state of Florida and the United States Department of Justice to “aggressively defend the validity of the 2021 compact before the Appeals Court.” This appeals process could take six months to a year, however, and there is no strong indication that Hard Rock Sportsbook will be back online anytime soon.
In the meantime, FanDuel and DraftKings are working on a ballot initiative that could be on the November 2022 ballot and could see sports betting passed by early 2023. This initiative would be seen in a much more favorable light by federal courts as it would pass with voter approval and not be a monopolization of sports betting as the Seminole Tribe previously attempted with its gaming compact.