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Florida Supreme Court rejects West Flagler motion to block Hard Rock Bet

| By Robert Fletcher
The Florida State Supreme Court rejected a motion from pari-mutuel betting operator West Flagler Associates to suspend Hard Rock Bet and its online sports betting offering in the state.
West Flagler Florida

West Flagler filed the motion earlier this month to stop Hard Rock Bet from offering sports betting in Florida. The motion requested the court to expedite the exercise of its all writs in the jurisdiction to immediately suspend online sports betting.

West Flagler argued the suspension should last until a final ruling on its petition for writ of quo warranto. 

This came after Hard Rock Bet, which is operated by the Seminole tribe, launched in Florida on 7 November. Early access was available to customers who bet previously with the operator and members of Hard Rock’s loyalty scheme.

However, in a blow to West Flagler, Florida’s State Supreme Court on Friday (17 November) rejected this request. The decision was announced in a short notice released by the court. 

“The ‘Motion to Expedite Consideration of Request for All Writs Relief Pending Resolution of Petition for Writ of Quo Warranto and Suspend the Sports Betting Provisions’ is hereby denied,” the notice read.

West Flagler now has the option to file a petition with the Supreme Court in response to the ruling.

West Flagler challenges Hard Rock Bet over mobile betting

In its now-rejected motion, West Flagler criticised Hard Rock Bet over how it launched online betting in Florida. West Flagler said the launch was not previously announced and that Hard Rock Bet only referenced games authorised by the 2021 compact at its tribal casinos.

The Seminoles announced its sports betting relaunch in Florida although only at land-based properties alongside craps and roulette. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, Seminole Classic Casino in Hollywood and Seminole Casino Coconut Creek are due to launch on 7 December, with other properties to follow in the days after.

Hard Rock Bet app
The Seminoles announced a surprise relaunch of Hard Rock Bet ahead of a land-based roll-out earlier this month

“Nowhere did the tribe mention off-reservation mobile betting,” West Flagler said in the motion. “Widespread understanding was that the references to sports betting were in-person sports betting. This is not the subject of the instant petition.

“Taking advantage of the distraction created by their carefully crafted announcement on 1 November, the tribe has sought to surprise the petitioners and this court by presenting a ‘fait accompli’ on 7 November. It has indeed taken live bets.”

West Flagler added that the only “remedy” to settle the case was to immediately suspend the off-reservation sports betting provisions.

Florida stand-off: how did we get here?

The court ruling marks the latest development in a case that has been rumbling on almost two years.

Hard Rock Bet launched in 2021 after the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, signed off on a gaming compact. This allowed the tribe to offer sports betting exclusively in Florida.

However, this was abruptly halted in December 2021 when the District of Columbia ruled the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers had questioned whether offering sports betting through tribal-based servers was the same as betting on tribal land.

Skipping to August this year, West Flagler began to ramp up its legal challenges. First, it filed a rehearing petition for the case it lost against secretary of the interior Debra Haaland in June.

West Flagler in September then filed a legal challenge against DeSantis and the Florida state legislature. This challenged whether DeSantis and the legislature exceeded their respective authorities with the 2021 gaming compact approval.

However, doubt was cast over West Flagler’s efforts when  the US Supreme Court rejected West Flagler’s motion to stay in October.

This did not quite pave the way for the Seminoles to launch sports wagering unchallenged. However, it gave the tribe a window to launch in, with Hard Rock Bet going live a matter of weeks later.

It is unlikely that Friday’s ruling by the Florida State Supreme Court will conclude the debate.

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