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MAJOR BET: The Seminole Tribe of Florida had a press event Dec. 7, 2006, top left, in New York City when it acquired Hard Rock International. The $965 million purchase included 124 Hard Rock Cafes in 45 countries.

A three-judge appeals panel rejected the Seminole Tribe’s petition to grant a stay Thursday to continue sports betting during the appeals process, forcing it to suspend taking wagers and new deposits over the weekend on its Hard Rock Sportsbook. Bettors were able to place wagers for the last month before the abrupt end that came as a result of a federal judge invalidating a 30-year gambling compact last month between the state and tribe that was supposed to bring the state $2.5 billion in the first five years.

“As a result of yesterday’s Appeals Court decision denying a temporary stay of the District Court’s decision on the 2021 Compact, Hard Rock Sportsbook will temporarily suspend operations of its mobile app in Florida,” Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said. “Account balances for all current players will be refunded as requested. Despite the decision, the Seminole Tribe looks forward to working with the State of Florida and the U.S. Department of Justice to aggressively defend the validity of the 2021 Compact before the Appeals Court, which has yet to rule on the merits of the 2021 Compact. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, the State of Florida and the United States have all taken the position that the 2021 Compact is legal.”

The lawsuit brought by West Flagler Associates, owners of Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County, challenged the legality of the compact that gave the tribe exclusive rights to take wagers in-person or on the app while offering marketing deals with approved partners where it would take a 40% cut of their profits. 

On Nov. 22, Judge Dabney Friederich declared the compact’s assertion that all betting occurs at the location of the tribe’s sportsbooks and supporting servers to be “fiction,” according to court documents. The decision marked a return to the drawing board for Gov. Ron DeSantis and the tribe, which could agree to a new compact that allows in-person wagering on sports at its six casinos, including the Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee.

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West Flagler called Friedrich’s decision last month a victory for family-owned business and said it looked forward to working with DeSantis “to pave a path forward that ensures a fair gaming marketplace exists” in the state, Magic City Casino spokesman Christian Ulvert said.

The tribe, which quietly launched its app on Nov. 1 and continued to operate it after Friederich’s ruling, had sought a temporary stay, arguing that not allowing it to take bets during the legal process would cause it “irreparable harm” by putting hundreds of workers’ employment at risk, according to court documents.

The tribe winning its appeal in the coming months is just one of the avenues for sports betting to return to the state. Sports wagering industry leaders DraftKings and FanDuel put up $10 million each toward getting signatures to put a referendum on ballots that legalizes sports betting outside Seminole lands. If the proposed referendum passes, the tribe would lose its exclusivity in the market and open the door for a sea of competitors to enter, including the Bonita Springs Poker Room.

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