Is sports betting legal in Florida? Controversies & appeals cloud the picture

Apr 24, 2024

The history of legalized sports betting in Florida can best be described as a roller coaster. While it was nearly legalized a few years ago, it took until last Fall for sports betting to officially be legalized in the state. However, there are still some restrictions on sports gambling in Florida. For example, only one online sportsbook has been legalized to operate in the state. That operator is Hard Rock Bet. Let’s dive into the history of sports betting in Florida and how it finally came to be legal.

History of sports betting legalization in FL

The story of legalized sports betting in Florida begins in 2018. In the Spring of that year, the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which gave the states the power to legalize sports betting. By the end of that year, numerous states pounced on the opportunity for extra tax revenue and launched legalized sports gambling. However, Florida remained in the shadows and made no movements toward sports betting until 2021.

The Seminole Tribe’s Monopoly

The Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida reached an agreement that became known as “The 2021 Gaming Compact” (Techopedia). This agreement gave the Tribe exclusive gaming rights and a monopoly on the sports betting scene in Florida. It was a historic agreement that cost the Tribe $2.5 billion in the first five years, plus revenue sharing until the deal expires in 2051. The agreement states that the Tribe could offer retail sports betting in their casinos, plus online sports betting in the future. 

The next few months went as planned, but in August of 2021, the agreement between Florida and the Seminole Tribe was challenged. A firm called West Flagler Associates filed a lawsuit to block the 2021 Gaming Compact and asked the Florida Supreme Court to “find that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state legislature exceeded their power in approving a 2021 compact with the Seminole Tribe that grants the tribe a monopoly on sports betting” (Techopedia). A hearing was set, and the launch of sports betting in Florida was delayed.

The Initial Launch of Legalized Sports Betting

A few months later, a U.S. District Judge dismissed the lawsuit. With that said, a Washington D.C. lawsuit remained a threat. On November 1, 2021, Hard Rock Digital went live in Florida and gave the residents the opportunity to bet on sports online (Sports Betting Dime). 

However, this new era of sports betting in the state did not last long. In fact, it was live for just three weeks. The Washington D.C. lawsuit was heard in court, and a U.S. Federal Judge found that the 2021 agreement between Florida and the Seminole Tribe violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That decision ended the 2021 Gaming Compact, and sports betting products went dark.

Hard Rock Bet’s Rise in Florida

Two years went by, and there was little hope for online sports betting to go live again. However, in June of 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the judgment made in 2021 (Ava Marie Law). All of a sudden, the dream of legalized sports betting in Florida became realistic again. West Flagler Associates continued to appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, “attempting to invalidate the legal language in the state’s approved 2021 gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe” (Sports Betting Dime). 

Meanwhile, Hard Rock Bet announced plans to launch in-person and online sports betting in the next few months. Hard Rock lived up to its promise, and on November 7, 2023, online sports betting was officially available again. However, at the time it was only available to existing (previous) customers. All of West Flager’s appeals had essentially been shot down, and the future of sports betting in Florida had a clear path to complete legalization. On December 5, 2023, Hard Rock Bet opened its online sportsbook to everyone in Florida.

The Power of the Seminole Tribe 

Fast forward to today, and the Seminole Tribe (with its Hard Rock Bet brand) remains the only operator of sports gambling in Florida. Sports betting is legal in their casinos around the state and online at Hard Rock Bet, which is operated and controlled by Seminole Gaming. It appears that the Seminole Tribe’s monopoly of sports betting in the state will continue for the foreseeable future, but West Flagler is still fighting against that in court.

How can I bet on sports in Florida now?

If you’re a Florida resident or located in the state of Florida, the only online sportsbook available is Hard Rock Bet. If you’d rather place bets in person, it must be at one of the Seminole Tribe’s casinos, which are located around the state. 

Additionally, as of April 22, 2024, PrizePicks and Underdog Fantasy have been approved to launch “peer-to-peer” DFS pick’em games (LSR). The difference between peer-to-peer games and Hard Rock Bet is who you are gambling against. For PrizePicks and Underdog, you are competing against your peers, not the “house.” That is different than at Hard Rock Bet, where you are competing against the sportsbook and the lines they set (LSR, 2).

Rise in Problem Gambling in Florida after legalization

The dawn of a new era of sports betting in Florida has also opened the door for societal problems, such as gambling addiction. The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling has been overwhelmed with calls and residents needing help. In just the first 45 days of sports betting being legalized in the Sunshine State, the non-profit saw a 138% increase in the amount of calls and texts received. Richard Pinsky, a worker at the non-profit, said after the uptick in the first few weeks, “We’re scrambling, we’re trying to add folks” (WFLA).

Forrest Arthur, CEO of Resurgence Tampa Bay, an addiction treatment facility, believes that the availability of online sports betting is a leading contributor to the increase in calls, “They essentially walk around with their drug of choice in their back pocket, able to gamble whenever they wish to. It makes it very very difficult to deal with the compulsion for the people who are struggling with this problem” (WFLA). As many other states know, this problem will not go away anytime soon. The rise of problem gaming in Florida will likely remain an issue years to come. 

Gambling Addiction Treatment and Resources

In addition to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, there is another option available for those who may be dealing with a gambling addiction. Birches Health is an online option that is now live in Florida and ready to help you, a friend, or someone you know. With a team of specially trained professionals and 24/7 access to help, Birches Health can help individuals overcome problem gambling issues from the comfort of home.

Help is right at your fingertips. If you think Birches could be a helpful resource for you or someone you know, please call (833) 483-3838 or email hello@bircheshealth.com to speak with a care specialist today.

Sources

Is Sports Betting Legal in Florida? – Latest News and Updates for April 2024

Florida Sports Betting: Legal Updates for Online Sportsbooks & Apps Launch

Wager Wars: The State of Sports Gambling in Florida | Ave Maria School of Law

Florida Sports Betting 2024 - Latest News and Updates

PrizePicks, Underdog Switch To Peer-To-Peer Pick'em In Florida - Legal Sports Report

Calls to Florida gambling helpline up 138% since sports betting launched in December | WFLA

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