Online Sports Betting Begins In Florida With Early Hard Rock Launch By Seminole

Hard Rock Sportsbook, which is offered by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, is now live in the state for bettors 21 and older, according to its website.

Geoff Zochodne - Senior News Analyst at
Geoff Zochodne • Senior News Analyst
Nov 1, 2021 • 16:05 ET • 3 min read
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Online sports betting has legally begun in Florida, although the legality of that wagering is still being tested in the courts. 

Hard Rock Sportsbook, which is offered by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, is now live in the state for bettors 21 and older, according to its website. Miami radio host Andy Slater first broke the news that wagers were being accepted via the sportsbook's mobile app, which is also available in Iowa and New Jersey.

The “early access launch” of the sportsbook (and the $100 risk-free bet it is offering) comes as Florida’s model of legal sports betting remains the target of legal challenges by opponents to the arrangement. A hearing for one of those challenges is scheduled to take place on Friday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in April the new gaming compact with the state's Seminole Tribe that included online sports betting. The compact was then approved by the state legislature in May and “deemed” approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior in August. 

The compact allows the tribe to offer in-person sports betting as well. Yet while the Seminole are expected to partner with pari-mutuels, such as race tracks, for the consumer-facing, front-end of the business, all sports gambling must ultimately flow through the tribe in Florida.

Sports betting must be "exclusively by and through" sportsbooks operated by the Seminole or its approved management contractor, the gaming compact says. Moreover, all sports betting is to be deemed exclusively done by the tribe even when the wagers are placed by someone in the state on their phone, but not on the tribe's lands.

“The Tribe and State refer to this arrangement as a ‘hub and spoke’ model, where the Tribe's servers are the hub, and the spokes are the mobile devices and contracted Qualified Pari-mutuel Permitholders facilities where the wagers originate,” the August approval letter from the Department of the Interior noted. 

After an amendment to the 30-year compact, the start date for sports betting in Florida was to be no earlier than October 15. 

Then came several lawsuits that were filed to stop that from happening, followed by court filings that suggested the earliest the Seminole would launch online sports betting would be November 15. And although one lawsuit was dismissed in October, at least two others are still working their way through federal court. 

There is also an ongoing effort by a group backed by DraftKings Inc. and FanDuel Group to put a sports betting-related question on the November 2022 ballot in Florida. That proposed constitutional amendment would allow other online sportsbook operators to take bets in the state, not just the Seminole. 

Partnering up

The start of in-person, retail wagering at the Seminole's six casinos in the state has yet to be announced. But the state and the tribe are apparently comfortable enough with the legal challenges to start allowing mobile wagers to be placed. 

On October 28, the Seminole also announced five Florida pari-mutuels had struck marketing agreements with the tribe ahead of the launch of sports betting. Under the terms of the gaming compact with the state, the tribe was supposed to enter into at least three of those agreements with pari-mutuels.

“The pari-mutuels will market the sportsbook at their facilities and to their customers and in return earn 60 percent of the profits that are generated from their marketing efforts,” a press release said. “Additional marketing agreements with Florida pari-mutuels are expected to be announced soon.”

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