West Flagler Requests Hard Rock Bet Shutdown from Florida Supreme Court

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West Flagler and Associates, the Florida gambling operator, has asked the Florida Supreme Court to shut down Hard Rock Bet in the state, just days after its surprise soft relaunch.

The move is the latest twist in a two-year legal saga that has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It started when the Seminole Tribe of Florida signed a gaming compact with the state in 2021, which seemed set to legalize Florida sports betting for the Tribe.

The Seminoles promptly launched Hard Rock Sportsbook in their home state that year, only to see a legal contest from West Flagler force the shutdown of the betting app just weeks later.

Now, in 2023, West Flagler has taken its case to the Florida Supreme Court to attempt to shut down the newly rebranded Hard Rock Bet.

Retail Decision Essentially Decided, Mobile Still Contentious

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted West Flagler’s stay on an earlier Appeals Court decision that essentially finally legitimized the compact for retail sports betting in Florida.

Although the denial of the stay is not an official ruling on the case, it does indicate the Supreme Court’s eventual decision, probably not due until mid 2024, may be favorable for the Seminoles and retail betting. In the meantime, the Seminoles are free to launch retail ‘books under the letter of the law as now defined.

However, Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh also said that the Court did not have the remit to rule on mobile betting.

That was why this week’s surprise recommencement of Hard Rock Bet mobile sportsbook in Florida was so unexpected for many in the gambling sector.

Distractions and Damages

The Seminoles also announced this week that they would soon be offering retail sports betting in Florida, which was far less contentious after the recent legal decisions.

However, as they did not offer any real announcement or promo on the Hard Rock Bet soft launch, West Flagler accuses them of using the retail betting launch as a smokescreen to avoid scrutiny on controversial mobile betting.

“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,” West Flagler’s lawyers wrote to the Court.

The operator had already been set to argue that online sports betting violated the Florida Constitution, as it says any kind of mobile sports betting off of Seminole land is not covered by the Tribal agreement.

In order to launch legally, West Flagler says, the Seminoles would need to petition for a referendum on a change to the state Constitution.

“The extraordinary actions of Respondents to sidestep the will of the citizens of Florida and the Florida Constitution, enabling the Tribe’s actions, mandates the immediate exercise of the Court’s “all writs” power as requested in the Petition,” the filings said.

“Absent an order suspending the offending provisions of the Implementing Law, the Court will be deprived of its ability to afford complete relief in this proceeding. The damage caused by even a few months of sports betting in violation of the Florida Constitution will be irreparable.”

Busy Week for Hard Rock

Hard Rock is one of the biggest and most recognizable U.S. hospitality and gambling operations, and it has been expanding considerably in recent years.

As well as the launch of retail sports betting at its six Florida casino venues, the operator has also said it will launch craps and roulette tables. This expansion of casino table games is covered by the tribal gaming agreement that it sees as now essentially ratified by the courts.

Also, this week Hard Rock was revealed as the collaborator with billionaire New York Mets owner Steve Cohen for his planned multibillion addition to the list of New York casinos.

Hard Rock is aiming to help Cohen build a huge casino resort in Queens, near the entrepreneur’s Citi Field baseball stadium.

However, the field of operators competing for three downstate New York casino licenses is competitive. MGM Resorts International and Genting have existing limited casino venues in the area, and are considered favorites for two of the three pending licenses.

Other operators and projects involved include Wynn Resorts in Hudson Yards, Bally’s at the former Trump Golf Links Ferry Point, and a consortium of developers in Coney Island.

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