In Bold Move, Florida Online Sports Betting App Launches Just Days Before Hearing

Written By Brant James on November 1, 2021 - Last Updated on November 2, 2021

Legal sports betting is underway in Florida.

Hard Rock Digital, the online arm of Seminole Gaming, launched midway on Nov. 1 on its Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app. It was a surprise move, as there was no promotional push or announced date.

The question is how long the Seminole Tribe of Florida will be able to keep the platform live. In just four days, a US District Court judge is scheduled to hear arguments in cases brought by multiple parties including the owners of Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room contending that the 30-year compact allowing the Seminoles to offer state-wide Florida mobile sports betting is illegal.

It’s at least unprecedented but passed its first hurdle in August when the Department of the Interior granted tacit approval by not ruling the sweeping new deal either legal or illegal. In allowing it to pass into law without judgment, Bureau of Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland in effect set up the courts to decide.

And now, with the state of nearly 22 million and one of the most glittering prizes on the legal sports betting map actively taking bets, the courts will be tested on un-ringing the proverbial bell.

Seminole Tribe spokespersons did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the move.

AGA Senior Vice President Casey Clark said: “With the availability of legal sports betting in Florida, more than half of all American adults now have access to legal sports betting in their home market. As with other legal markets, we’re glad that Floridians have a safe, legal and regulated alternative to the predatory and pervasive illegal market.”

It’s unclear whether sports bets are being taken at the retail parlor windows being built in the Seminoles’ six Florida casinos, but that hardly matters anymore. Every inch of the sprawling state from Pensacola to Key West is now, in essence, a sportsbook.

It is also currently unknown whether the Seminoles have begun offering craps and roulette at their casinos, which was also awarded them in the deal in exchange for upwards of $500 million in yearly revenue share payments for the state.

Will the Seminoles have to shut Florida sports betting down?

There are deeply-held opinions on both sides, specifically whether the “hub-and-spoke” concept at the heart of the Seminoles’ state-wide mobile offering is legal. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act would suggest it is not. Newland, though, said in his review of the Florida compact that the pre-Internet document could not have foreseen either the medium or such growth opportunities it offered for tribes. He opined that they should be able to explore them. Still, as recently as this year in Arizona, tribes have needed state-wide sports betting legalization and extra tax concessions to offer mobile betting off their lands. Sports betting was legalized in Florida when the state legislature ratified the compact. Sporting events and concerts are swarming with lobbyists soliciting signatures for ballot measures to allow outside competition into the state.

There is a growing sentiment, perhaps harkening to the Seminoles’ habit of winning most every negotiation – eventually – with the state of Florida, that this might fly.

For now, mobile sports betting is alive and active and the process of registering, funding and betting was seamless for the first day.

PlayUSA field tests logged successful bets throughout the Tampa Bay area, including Section 310, Row L, Seat 14 of an Amalie Arena crowded with hockey fans gobbling up bandwidth on Monday night.

How to register for your Florida sports betting account

Hard Rock Digital seemed ready for the launch, if registration and deposit experiences on Monday were any indication.

New customers can begin the process by downloading the Hard Rock Sportsbook app in the App Store.

As with most mobile sportsbook accounts, a few crucial pieces of information will be required to register, including the player’s full name and last four digits of a Social Security number.

The accounts can be funded with PayPal, Venmo or via connecting personal bank account.

The entire process could be completed in less than five minutes.

Are there any offers for players new to Florida sports betting?

Hard Rock is currently offering up to a $100 risk-free bet. Be sure to take advantage of this offer when signing up so you have some money to explore the app with, and place a bet on your team.

Florida sports betting launch followed crucial parimutuel deal

The Tribe launch is immediately good news for the five Florida pari-mutuels that announced marketing agreements with the Seminoles last week. In exchange for 40% of revenue, Palm Beach Kennel Club, Hialeah Park Casino, Ocala Gainesville Poker/Ocala Breeder’s Sales Company, Tampa Bay Downs and TGT Poker & Racebook can open sportsbooks and offer mobile betting in an alliance with the Seminoles. This cannot happen if the so-called hub-and-spoke system, where betting servers are housed on Tribal land but facilitate bets off it, is struck down. More parimutuel deals are expected.

The compact required the Tribe to have deals with at least three pari-mutuels within 60 days of launch.

The litigants claim that the hub-and-spoke model is not legal and that constitutional language in Florida requires any expansion of gambling to be put to voters.

Photo by hardrocksportsbook.com
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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