The Seminole Tribe in Florida is currently withholding scheduled payments to the state after a federal judge suspended their sports betting operations a few months ago. This is just the latest development in what has become a contentious battle over the rights to online gaming throughout Florida. And it doesn't appear that the debacle will reach a resolution anytime soon.
Hopefully, you're not in any rush for legal sports betting in Florida to return because it doesn't sound like it's happening any time in the near future. If anything, we seem to be spiraling further and further away from a resolution to the current matter. And now, with the Seminole Tribe refusing to release scheduled sports betting payments to the state of Florida, we can't be sure whether this ongoing dispute will ever end.
Does this actually mean the future of online sports betting in Florida is hanging in the balance? Will the Seminole Tribe face any consequences? And above all, just what the heck is going on in the Sunshine State?
Put on those knee-high rain boots, folks. We're wading into the thick of this storm.
Why the Seminole Tribe is Withholding Sports Betting Payments to Florida
Last year, Florida amended a gaming compact made with the Seminole Tribe that expanded their influence over the state's gaming industry. With sports betting being legalized, the Seminole Tribe was granted essentially exclusive rights to accept wagers.
This agreement covered all potential forms of sports betting. The Seminole Tribe was allowed to set up sportsbooks within their already open casinos. They were also allowed to capitalize on pari-mutuel gaming and by acting as the primary operator on sports-betting kiosks scattered throughout the state. Even more notably, they were granted permission to build another three casino and resort-style locations that offered everything from sports betting to table games and slot machines. And finally, the Seminole Tribe was able to set up an online sports betting hub through the Hard Rock Casino, the parent company of which was responsible for rolling out the sports-betting site.
In exchange for all of these rights, the Seminole Tribe agreed to pay out no less than $2.5 billion—with a B—to the state over the first half-decade of the gaming compact and $6 billion total over the course of the full decade. They also agreed to pay no less than $400 million to the state in any given year. Florida was counting on that revenue to funnel into local programs aimed at improving everything from education to roadwork.
But this agreement was thrown for a whirl back in November when U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich overruled the Seminole Tribe's exclusive hold on sports betting rights throughout the state. Other tribes and corporate sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars, etc.) argued it was an unfair monopoly. When the Seminole Tribe pushed back against the ruling, everything imploded. Sports betting in Florida was halted, and the Seminole Tribe was forced to shut down their online sportsbook operations being run through the Hard Rock Casino.
All of this has led to the Seminole Tribe refusing to give Florida their next installment as part of the gaming compact. Though their casinos are still up and running, and while they still have the right to develop resort-style casinos on a more than 20-mile-stretch of land, they argue that the nature of their agreement was upended and that they shouldn't be responsible for the agreed-upon terms that have since been walked back.
Will There be Recourse for the Seminole Tribe on Behalf of Florida?
Florida officials are already expected to go after the Seminole Tribe for payments not received. Most even expect they'll threaten to try closing up the Seminole Tribe's other gaming operations, which feature mainly casinos.
For the time being, this feels like an empty threat. Although something similar happened in New York with the Seneca Tribe back in 2017, their decision to withhold outstanding payments to the state was in response to a mutually agreed upon option in their gaming compact being exercised. They weren't actually being deprived of any contractual gaming rights.
The Seminole Tribe, however, is seeing their business model compromised. They agreed to pay out billions to the state under the guise they'd have expanded the scope of their business to include sports betting. Since that was taken away from them, the U.S. Court of Appeals isn't expected to rule in Florida's favor.
The Future of Sports Betting in Florida
What does all of this mean for the future of sports betting in Florida? It's tough to say.
Immediately, it doesn't seem like online sports betting will return to Florida anytime soon. There remains a gully separating what the Seminole Tribe wants (exclusive sports betting rights) versus what the opposition is trying to implement (a more open sports-betting license process).
In the meantime, there will probably be a compromise on the payments that the Seminole Tribe has withheld. They are still operating within Florida, so the state is owed something, but the amount is likely to be adjusted or renegotiated based upon new realities.
Whether there will be too much bad blood between the Seminole Tribe, Florida, and the larger corporate sportsbooks to reach a resolution on the currently discontinued sports betting issue is a separate matter. Chances are something will give eventually. Too much money is at stake for every party involved for them to keep tabling it entirely. We still suggest going through our reviews of the top online sportsbooks, like GTBets, in preparation of legal sports betting coming to Florida. But we just can't be sure how long the present stalemate will last.
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