Hard Rock CEO Offers Pointed Thoughts on the State of Florida Sports Betting

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Apr 27, 2024 08:00 PM
Hard Rock CEO Offers Pointed Thoughts on the State of Florida Sports Betting

Is Florida sports betting on the verge of being overturned, again, if and when its current case gets heard by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)? Will we see online sportsbooks in the United States beyond Hard Rock Bet enter the market in the near future? Has the relaunch of sports betting in Florida sparked a bunch of activity? Or is the Seminole Tribe’s monopoly and the limited access it ensures repressing interest?

These are just a few of the topics Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen touched upon during a recent conversation with Mike Mazzeo of Legal Sports Report.

Before we dig into the most intriguing tidbits, let’s first unpack why we should care about this discussion. Hard Rock is in a unique position. They partner with the Seminole tribe to run the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood in Florida. They also run a Florida sports betting app for the Seminole, which has exclusive rights to offer sports gambling inside the Sunshine State.

This exclusivity, of course, is the reason we’re here at all. The Seminoles negotiated a gaming compact in 2021 with Governor Ron DeSantis. After launching services before the end of the year, a lawsuit from Florida gaming operator West Flagler Associates forced the tribe to shudder their sports betting operations. West Flagler Associates argued the Seminole tribe Florida sports betting app violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act because they let customers place wagers off tribal property. However, after arguing that the servers for the sports betting app were on tribal property, the Seminoles were able to relaunch operations in December 2023.

As it stands, Florida sports betting is currently live. But West Flagler Associates has asked to take the case. Thus, the matter is far from settled. 

Hard Rock and Seminole Tribe Recognize They Could be Operating on Borrowed Time

Naturally, Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen has some thoughts on the matter—as well as the future of sports gambling in the Sunshine State. Let’s start with the lawsuit. 

Many have interpreted the Florida sports betting relaunch as proof that the Seminoles know they’re not in danger of rolling back operations again. However, Allen told Legal Sports Report that’s not exactly the case, even if the tribe (and state) believe their gaming compact will hold up:

Frankly, this case, if we lose—and we may, right? We’re not arrogant to think this is a slam dunk. But the language is virtually identical to the state of New Jersey. And the servers have to be in an Atlantic City casino. They have to be geographically placed. We took the exact same language. So if it’s illegal…then I think the industry has got a big problem. … But I’m sure every one of the companies would love to be in Florida, and we respect that.” 

Allen provides an interesting spin on the tribal-property issue. This is typically framed as a situation unique to Florida. And yet, if SCOTUS decides that tribal servers are not an extension of tribal property, it could open the door for gaming operators to challenge sports betting monopolies in other states.

Equally important: Allen hints at the motives for West Flagler Associates. As a gaming operator in the Sunshine State themselves, they would surely love the opportunity to secure a Florida sports betting license. Other online sportsbooks in the USA no doubt feel the same. 

Technically, then, this lawsuit isn’t about the legality of Florida sports wagering. It’s about broadening the market to include other operators. 

Hard Rock CEO Sees Florida Sports Betting Market Eventually Undergoing Expansion

Just because Florida sports betting is limited to the Seminole tribe now doesn’t mean this won’t change in the future. In fact, Allen sounds fairly certain it will. 

“I don’t think we’ve ever stated that we wouldn’t work with some of the other companies, whether it be Caesars, BetMGM, DraftKings or FanDuel,” he explained to Legal Sports Report. “We’ve always stated that we’d be receptive to that conversation.”

This tracks with conventional wisdom. The Florida sports betting market is ultimately too large to be serviced by one operator. After all, not everyone in the Sunshine State is within driving distance of Seminole tribe sportsbooks. And while they have a sports betting app anyone inside the region can currently use, you would expect a top-five sports market to offer more options. 

Assuming the status quo, this is an issue that’ll likely gain traction during future legislature meetings. But West Flagler Associates is attempting to accelerate the state’s re-evaluation by filing their Florida sports betting brief with the Supreme Court

Is There a Timeline for Florida Sports Betting Expansion

Make no mistake, despite the lawsuit, West Flagler Associates is playing the long game. Even if SCOTUS sides with them and repeals Florida sports betting, online sportsbooks won’t suddenly be allowed to operate in the state.

On the contrary, the Florida House of Representatives and Senate would likely need to restart the entire legalization process all over again. (This assumes the governor’s office won’t have the freedom to broker another gaming compact that doesn’t require a constitutional amendment). However, that’s sort of the point.

Right now, Florida lawmakers aren’t having that discussion. A gaming compact the state approved is already active. It will take a material change in the status quo for them to explore Florida sports betting expansion that demands a constitutional amendment.

To that end, with the 2024 electoral ballot out of the question, this expansion won’t be possible before 2026. And again, this presumes SCOTUS invalidates the current Florida sports betting compact. There’s no guarantee they do. Of course, there’s no guarantee they won’t. Such is that status of Florida sports betting: up in the air, still, after all this time.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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