MIAMI — Scott Savin says it a little sheepishly. But he doesn’t shy away from it, either.
That’s because friends and customers at Magic City Casino remind him about it. And the chief operating officer has a shiny sportsbook in a repurposed section of the old greyhound track that can’t legally take bets.
“We’re the reason we don’t have sports betting because we weren’t going to let the Tribe have a monopoly,” Savin told Gaming Today during the draft for Magic City Jai Alai’s upcoming Battle Court II season.
Battle, court. Indeed.
The gambling compact ratified between the state of Florida and Seminole Tribe and allowed to pass into law by the Department of the Interior in 2021 contained provisions beneficial to the Tribe for entering into marketing deals to bring sports betting to the state’s pari-mutuel facilities. These horse and former greyhound tracks would be the spoke in the so-called “hub-and-spoke” model that became immediately controversial and led a federal judge to shut down the Hard Rock app after a month of taking bets last November.
“Although the Compact ‘deem[s]’ all sports betting to occur at the location of the Tribe’s ‘sports book[s]’ and supporting servers, this Court cannot accept that fiction. When a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by ‘deeming’ their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not,” Judge Dabney L. Friedrich said in her Nov. 22 ruling.
The litigation that ultimately found its way to Friedrich in US District Court began with lawsuits filed by Magic City owners West Flagler Associates and the owners of Bonita Springs Poker Room, each of which was in line to gain sportsbooks. But in a series of lawsuits against the state and Department of the Interior, they successfully asserted that the compact terms that set up the possibility were contrary to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The case is currently meandering through the US District Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, with opening briefs having been submitted in mid-August. The case is scheduled to continue until at least mid-November.
Savin Thinks Pari-mutuels Will Get Retail Sportsbooks
Most Florida parimutuels at least negotiated with the Seminole Tribe for what could have been a much-needed financial boost. In exchange for marketing the Hard Rock Digital sportsbook at their facilities, pari-mutuels were to earn 60% of the difference between net win and the Seminoles’ expenses.
But Savin said the 60% cut was deceptive.
“They didn’t have to tell you what the marketing expenses were going to be, so they could have made them anything they wanted,” he claimed. “Your 60% could have been something or nothing.”
Still, many of the state’s licensed pari-mutuel outlets were expected to enter these deals with the Seminole Tribe, even understanding the financial reward would be modest, according to one track executive.
“Obviously, it’s another amenity that we can offer our fans,” Tampa Bay Downs general manager Peter Berube said in September 2021. “I think it would bring in a different type of customer to the facility and, hopefully, have them experience the horse racing side of it also, and vice versa.
“It’s added foot traffic. There is some money to be made, though it is not a great deal of money.”
“I think the Tribe will get approval to do it on the reservation. In the lawsuit, they’ll say you can’t do it off-reservation, but you can do it on-reservation,” he said. “And then I think the Tribe will run a referendum or they’ll partner with FanDuel, DraftKings, whatever. But I think the Tribe will run their own referendums for sports betting and then they’ll give all of us the retail.”
Unless the DC Appeals Court rules in favor of the DOI and the Seminoles and deems its state-wide mobile plan legal under IGRA, Florida legislators would need to legalize sports betting outside of the compact. Hard Rock would then have to be licensed off reservation property like any other operator. Such has been the case with tribes offering state-wide mobile betting in states like Arizona and Connecticut.
Amendment 3, passed in 2018, also limits the expansion of gambling in the state without voter approval.
Experts see the proverbial orange as worth the squeeze, legally. A PlayFL study estimated Florida could become an $8-12 billion sports betting economy annually. Six of the top 10 U.S. states by population have legal sports betting in some form, but the top three — California, 37 million; Texas, 29 million and Florida, 22 million — do not.
Savin, Observers Expect 2025 Florida Sports Betting Debut
FanDuel and DraftKings poured in excess of $36 million into promoting ultimately unsuccessful ballot proposals to legalize sports betting in 2022, but DraftKings CEO Jason Robins has foreshadowed another effort he believes can be successful with an earlier start. The Seminoles, meanwhile, launched ad campaigns to stem these outside companies and buttress their virtual monopoly on gambling in Florida.\
“Now … I think it’ll be 2025, and then there will be sports betting,” Savin predicted.
John Pappas, CEO of Corridor Consulting, agreed that early 2025 would represent the “best case” given all the factors still in play. Brendan Bussmann, managing partner of B Global concurred.
A 2025 launch could be another example of the Seminoles executing a long game to their benefit. Meanwhile, as sports betting in its headquarters state is shuttered, Hard Rock has launched sports betting in Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia, with Illinois and Ohio coming soon.
As for The Sports Club at Magic City, it figures to be a while.