Federal Judge Overturns Law Legalizing Sports Betting in Florida

Federal Judge Overturns Law Legalizing Sports Betting in Florida

Online sports betting is no longer up and running in Florida—for now, at least. A federal judge has overturned a piece of legislation that was signed into law this past May by the state's governor, Ron DeSantis, that green lit online sports betting through the Seminole Tribe. Their operation, which launched on November 1, has officially been shut down, suddenly jeopardizing the long-term future of online sports betting in Florida.


And just like that, legal online sports betting in Florida may be no more. A federal judge has overturned a Florida law that legalized online sports betting through the Seminole Tribe. Now, on the heels of this decision, no one quite knows when, or even if, legal online sports betting will come to Florida.

If you're like pretty much everyone else, you're probably asking "What gives?" You're also probably wondering when legal sports betting will come to Florida. Let's try to answer these questions, and others, the very best we can.

Online Sports Betting No Longer Legal in Florida

First and foremost, remember the latest news could change.

There is a clear push for Florida to join the ranks of legal online sports betting in the USA. They wouldn't have okayed an online sports betting operation last May if there wasn't. But the long-awaited rollout didn't even last a month before Dabney Friedrich, a federal judge appointed during the Donald Trump administration, put the kibosh on it. 

As a result, the Seminole Tribe may soon be forced to cease accepting sports wagers through the Hard Rock Sportsbook—a sudden, if jarring, development with major implications on not just sports gambling's future in Florida, but the financial well-being of the entire state.

Why Did Florida Reverse Legal Online Sports Betting?

Legal sports betting was always on fragile ground in Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis is a big proponent of its passing and revenue projections, hence why he pushed a sports betting deal through. But other on-site gambling operations throughout the state have taken issue with the exclusivity of Florida's setup.

Placing an off-site wager in the Sunshine State wasn't as simple as perusing the best online sportsbook reviews, finding an odds provider you liked, registering an account, and submitting bets. Only the Seminole Tribe was licensed to accept online sports bets, much to the dismay of the Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and the Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida

The heads of both companies strongly opposed the bill that was signed during a special state-lawmaker meeting last May. They argued that Florida merely instituted a gray-area workaround for existing legislation, which says that bets cannot be accepted off the tribal ground.

The Seminole Tribe, of course, argues that their online servers technically qualify as tribal ground. But Judge Friedrich disagrees. She ruled that "allowing such betting to take place from any laptop or smartphone—but completed through servers on tribal land—violated terms of IGRA, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act."

It didn't help the Seminole Tribe's case that DeSantis himself has admitted the basis of Florida's sports-betting legalization is largely unprecedented. He went as far as calling their approach to sports betting an "unsettled legal issue."

What's the Next Step for Sports Betting in Florida?

All hope is not lost for the current sports-betting set up in Florida. 

The Seminole Tribe has filed an appeal in hopes of overruling Judge Friedrich's decision. If successful, they will be allowed to accept bets through mobile devices and computers from anywhere while routing them through tribal servers run by the Hard Rock Sportsbook in Florida.

And yet, many aren't expecting the Seminole Tribe to emerge victoriously. 

This entire process has been streamlined in hopes of accelerating an additional state revenue stream. And in expediting this sports betting law, those in favor of it failed to adequately define it.

Most experts agree that Florida has been unable to justify allowing bets to be placed off tribal grounds, let alone outside the state and that their inability to open up online sports-betting licenses beyond the Seminole Tribe has further hurt their case.

Is Online Sports Betting in Florida Dead for Good?

Money talks and the deal Florida signed with the Seminole Tribe speaks volumes. The 30-year compact Florida agreed to guarantee the state at least an additional $2.5 billion in revenue over the next five years. Even those most conservative lawmakers and strongest opponents of legalized sports betting understand how much that money would mean to localized economies, particularly as the United States continues to grapple with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

That said, at least one of two things will need to happen for sports betting to get back on legal ground in Florida.

Perhaps most importantly, there will need to be alternative means of legalization. And since DeSantis has already said Florida has no immediate plans to drum up another specialized bill, this most likely means the state will need to green light online sports betting through a constitutional amendment. Other states have done the same, so that's not a big deal. It just makes for a longer process.

On top of that, Florida may also have to revisit the law that mandates sports wagers can only be accepted by tribal entities. Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room no doubt wouldn't have gotten lawyers involved if they were allowed to join the Seminole Tribe in accepting online sports bets.

Whether the latter will be feasible is anyone's guess. The Seminole Tribe is bound to push back against any legislation that takes prospective businesses out of their pockets. Ultimately, though, the potential for profit should resonate with everyone involved and bring about inevitable concession. It's just a matter of when—an issue without a clear answer, and one that could take a really long time to be settled.

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