Published: April 29, 2024

Hard Rock Eyes Florida Online Casino Push Once Compact Legality Settled

A favorable US Supreme Court decision on the challenge of its compact could lead the Seminole Tribe to begin pursuing Florida online casinos.

Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming, told PlayUSA last week at the East Coast Gaming Congress that the tribe has an interest in starting the process to add iCasino once the legality of its online sports betting model is confirmed.

“I think that, No. 1, if the case was resolved in our favor, we would then have to reinitiate conversations with the governor’s office, the House and the Senate. And then that becomes a political process that we would navigate through. Certainly, the polling suggests that the citizens of the state of Florida would like to have it, but you have to go through the process.”

In February, Florida parimutuel owner West Flagler petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear its challenge of statewide online wagers in a tribal compact executed under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Despite SCOTUS granting an extension for the Department of Interior to respond to the petition, the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to take the case in June before recessing for the summer.

Seminoles previously tried to include online casino in compact

It’s no surprise that the Seminoles are interested in amending their compact to include online casino.

In 2021, the Seminole Tribe and Gov. Ron DeSantis agreed to a compact that set the stage for future online casino discussions.

That section read:

“The State and Tribe agree to engage in good-faith negotiations within 36 months after the effective date of this Compact to consider an amendment to authorize the Tribe to offer all types of covered games online or via mobile devices to players physically located in the state.”

At the time, then-House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the mere possibility of that the compact leads to a backdoor expansion of online gaming was unacceptable. Sprowls no longer is in the Florida legislature.

Facing legislative opposition, DeSantis and the tribe agreed to remove the iGaming language from the compact on the first day of the special session on gaming. The legislature approved the compact with online sports betting without mentioning iCasino.

If the compact passed as originally agreed upon, and there were no legal challenges, the Seminoles would have been engaging with the state on online casino negotiations this year.

Minimal changes needed for Seminoles to add online casino

The Seminole Compact with the state of Florida asserts that online wagers take place at the server’s location on Indian lands.

With the model for online sports betting already in the state compact, it wouldn’t take much additional language for the tribe to move forward with Florida online casinos.

“You would have to amend the compact to include a definition in scope and potentially a revenue share rate addressing iGaming,” Allen said.

Florida already concluded its legislative session for 2024. It’s difficult to tell where legislators would stand on amending the compact so soon to include online casino.

“There’s a different speaker in the House and a different Senate president, so really it’s going back to ground zero,” Allen said. “The majority of elected officials in the state are newly elected from when we negotiated the compact.”

Allen said his plan to convince Florida legislators to allow the tribe to offering online casino would be to show them how easy it is to sign up for an illegal iGaming site in the state.

“Every single time we’ve done that, the legislator in any specific state says, ‘Wow, we didn’t understand how easy it was.’ So I think that education process is very important.”

Seminoles have Florida online casino app ready to go

The Seminoles already have an online casino platform operational in another state. Hard Rock Bet offers iCasino in New Jersey on the same platform with online sports betting.

Allen, who also is Chairman of the Board for Hard Rock International, explained:

“The numbers we have seen with our sports betting in Florida are staggering and we now have the No. 1 app in the United States for Hard Rock Bet. We’ve seen that 88% of the people utilizing the site state that the primary reason they are coming to our site is because it’s legal. Previously, they were still betting. They were just using all the offshore illegal sites. So I think it’s a great piece of data as we look at not just sports betting but we look at iGaming in other states throughout the United States.”

Timeframe for Florida online casino push

Allen didn’t want to speculate on how quickly the tribe might move on online casino. He wants to see how the US Supreme Court decides on the petition first.

“I think we want to let the legal process work its way through. Once we see that decision, and it’s not just that we won – who knows what can be in that written narrative that may or may not be restrictive. So we would have to see that before we could comment.”

Further legal challenges at the state level also could delay the Seminole Tribe’s pursuit of online casino.

The Florida Supreme Court denied West Flagler’s attempt to skip lower court proceedings. So the plaintiff would have to start from scratch in a Florida circuit court, which it might do if SCOTUS denies the petition for writ of certiorari.

Seminoles willing to discuss letting online gaming companies in Florida

The Seminole Tribe has a monopoly on online sports betting in Florida with Hard Rock Bet.

DraftKings and FanDuel failed in an attempt to put an initiative on the ballot in 2022 to open up the Florida sports betting market to commercial operators.

Commercial operators opposed the Seminole monopoly for online sports betting during the 2021 special session. They could oppose any efforts by the tribe to expand to an iGaming monopoly, making a compact amendment more difficult.

But if they play ball with the Seminoles, Allen said the tribe could work with online gaming companies to enter the Florida market.

“I don’t think we’ve ever stated that we wouldn’t work with some of the other companies, whether it be Caesars or MGM, or DraftKings or FanDuel. So we’ve always stated that we’d be receptive to that conversation.”

Allen wouldn’t discuss how the Seminoles might let commercial operators into the online sports betting market now.

“I think it would be premature to figure out the mechanics of that until we know where we end up in the legal process. But there is no limitation on a conversation of skin or whatever that may be. I think it would be one step at a time.”

Allen said there were no hard feelings against the companies for their previous opposition and attempts to get into the Florida market.

“Certainly in the early days when they were spending significant amounts of money to block any potential moving forward, I’m not going to say those days are behind us but I think right now there is a much better relationship from a communication standpoint. I’m sure every one of the companies would like to be in Florida, and we respect that.”
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