WASHINGTON D.C. - Just four days after the launch of the Seminole Hard Rock Sportsbook app, Florida gamblers may have to hold their bets. Today, a federal judge in D.C. will hear arguments challenging the legality of the app and the contract that allowed it.
While the legal challenge plays out, the judge could decide to issue an injunction against the app’s use.
Both opponents of gambling and gambling operators Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino are suing over a state’s agreement that gives the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to mobile sports betting in Florida.
During a special spring session, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a deal with the Seminole Tribe that states bets made on sporting events and races "using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe."
But challengers say neither the governor nor legislature, which later approved it, had the authority to do so. Per Florida law, only voters in the state can expand gambling and, per federal law, gambling operated by a tribe must take place on tribal land.
The Seminole Tribe says its servers that take the bets and host its betting platform are indeed located on their lands, but that argument has been tried in three other federal cases and has yet to succeed.
Challengers have successfully argued in the past that because a mobile app allows users to place bets from anywhere, online and mobile betting violates the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act.
"There are two sides to a bet. A bet is placed by an individual at a location and it's received by the betting company. The placing of the bet is even more important than the receipt of the bet," explains attorney Daniel Wallach, who specializes in gaming law and the sports betting industry. "Federal courts look to the gambling activity in the location of the gambler, and that will be what decides the issue."
Whether or not the app survives this legal battle, the Seminole Tribe’s exclusive hold on mobile and online sports betting is facing another threat.
Online betting companies FanDuel and DraftKings have put up a $20 million wager that they can persuade Florida voters to pass an amendment that will open up the state to their online sports betting platforms.
The Seminole Tribe has been fighting back with its own ad campaign, hoping to convince voters to "say no to these outsiders" in order to preserve its monopoly on mobile sportsbooks.