Hard Rock Sports Betting Monopoly Could Become Bargaining Chip in iGaming Negotiations

It should come as no surprise that the Seminole Tribe of Florida intends to push for online casino gaming in the state once the dust settles in the legal battle over mobile sports betting. The first draft of the sports betting compact included a guarantee that such negotiations would take place within 36 months, though that clause was later removed. Still, the Tribe told Bonus’s sister site PlayUSA at last week’s East Coast Gaming Congress that it hopes to bring the state to the table to discuss iGaming regardless. There’s even some suggestion that it would surrender its sports betting monopoly if necessary to make that happen.

Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen told PlayUSA’s Matt Kredell that all they’re waiting for is a favorable final verdict in West Flagler Associates’ attempt to invalidate the current compact. He said:

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.

West Flagler has all but exhausted its legal options to fight online gambling in Florida. The US Supreme Court hasn’t officially refused to hear its case yet but has indicated that it believes it is one better suited to state court. However, the Supreme Court of Florida recently denied West Flagler’s petition.

Unless the federal justices have a change of heart, any further attempt from West Flagler would need to go back to the drawing board. It’s unlikely the Seminoles will wait for a do-over to work its way through the system before pressing on with their own plans.

Fewer Roadblocks for Florida iGaming

At one time, it was a common assumption that two-phase online gambling expansion would be the norm. States would legalize mobile sports betting first, followed by online casinos a few years later.

Evidence suggests that the Seminoles might have a harder time with that than they imagine. The list of states that have tried and failed to follow this pattern is long and growing.

Vehement opposition in the legislature to the commitment to negotiate would seem to confirm an uphill battle ahead. However, there are some reasons for optimism.

For one thing, the fiercest opponent of iGaming at the time of the sports betting compact was Chris Sprowls, the Speaker of the House at the time. However, he reached his term limit in 2022 and is no longer an obstacle for Hard Rock and the Seminoles.

For another, the specter of potential federal interference is rapidly fading. Since the negotiations for the 2021 compact, two important things have happened. The Department of Justice’s attempt to reinterpret the Wire Act to meddle in online gambling was put to rest in a preventative lawsuit by IGT. More importantly, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has explicitly endorsed Florida’s online gambling model in its new rules. It has affirmed that it will approve such compacts in the future.

That leaves other gambling interests as the most likely obstacle to a push for online casino gaming. And that’s where the sports betting monopoly could become a bargaining chip.

Florida: California’s Problems in Reverse?

Florida resembles California in a few ways: there’s tribal exclusivity for retail gambling (except for cardrooms, with which the tribes feud), but the potential online market is big enough to have the big iGaming and mobile sports betting companies salivating. With so much money on the table, that’s a recipe for cutthroat politics.

In California, that manifested as online operators attempting a push for sports betting only to find the tribes flexing their muscles on defense. California’s sports betting effort failed dramatically in 2022, following an expensive lobbying and public relations effort on both sides.

The same dynamic could play out in reverse if the national operators decided to try to block any Florida iGaming plan that wouldn’t include them. They did so in 2021 with sports betting and would presumably do so again if not included in an iGaming plan.

Market Competition as a Bargaining Chip

Gambling is such a crucial revenue stream for tribes that they’re very reluctant to compromise exclusivity where they have it. Yet, there’s already some precedent for such compromises being used as a bargaining chip for iGaming. Negotiations for online sports betting in Connecticut were at an impasse until 2021. Gov. Ned Lamont wanted to include a Lottery-operated sportsbook, but tribes were initially opposed. That changed when, after seeing the impact of COVID on retail casinos, Gov. Lamont put iGaming on the table.

The two tribes quickly agreed to compete with a third sportsbook in return for legal online casinos. The iGaming duopoly has allowed FanDuel and DraftKings to divide the market between themselves, so the commercial sector’s two biggest players are happy as well.

Although Hard Rock has been putting a lot of work into its own online product, Allen told PlayUSA that the Seminoles aren’t averse to working with other commercial operators, mentioning Caesars, MGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel by name. He said that communication with those companies has improved.

He was more cagey about whether such a relationship would mean breaking the sports betting monopoly:

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.

Given how difficult it can be to sell lawmakers on iGaming regulation, having allies rather than adversaries could be the key to expanding Florida’s offerings. Players in the state would surely welcome more options, and competitive markets have proven elsewhere to generate more total revenue than monopolies.

About the Author

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon is an online gambling industry analyst with nearly ten years of experience. He currently serves as Casino News Managing Editor for Bonus.com, part of the Catena Media Network. Other gambling news sites he has contributed to include PlayUSA and Online Poker Report, and his writing has been cited in The Atlantic.
Back To Top

Get connected with us on Social Media