SBC Rewind: Tribes and pick’em fantasy face legal gambling challenges

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SBC Americas is taking a look back at the highlights of 2023. In this edition, we head into the fall and the start of football season.

As sportsbook handle started to heat up, so did the battle over what counts as gambling and what doesn’t. DraftKings and FanDuel and DFS brands Underdog and PrizePicks took the gloves off in the fall. So did West Flagler, as it took its Florida court challenge to both the state and federal Supreme Courts.

Kentucky launch headlines football kickoff for sportsbooks

While it wasn’t the biggest state, Kentucky enjoyed its moment in the spotlight as the only new state launching in the fall of 2023. The Bluegrass State started with retail sportsbook launching on Sept. 8, with online betting firing up later in the month.

It was also the first football season for new markets like Ohio and Massachusetts though, resulting in over a million people opening new accounts during Week 1 of NFL, per GeoComply.

The war between DFS and sportsbooks reaches the next level

The tensions between second-wave DFS sites and FanDuel and DraftKings had been simmering all year, but it reached a boil in the fall. In September, Underdog started going on the offensive, with both CEO Jeremy Levine and General Counsel Nicholas Green taking to Twitter to vent about the escalating pressure from regulators about their product.

Shortly before G2E, Levine spoke at length with SBC Americas about the situation, which only worsened at the annual Vegas event when CEOs Amy Howe and Jason Robins used their keynote to question their competitors.

As Michigan rushed through finalizing regulations to push pick’em style out of the state, Maine went so far as to fine Underdog nearly $400,000 for what it claimed were regulatory violations.

But the conversation about what counts as gambling extends beyond just pick’em DFS. Sweepstakes sportsbook Fliff is currently in a legal battle in California and the emerging vertical of online skill games from operators like FanDuel are operating in an unregulated space, raising questions about what gambling really is.

Tribal sports betting questions extend beyond Florida

Going into the fall, the pace of West Flagler’s challenge to Florida sports betting sped up with simultaneous cases at the state and federal level. Despite the plaintiff’s best efforts to get a stay of the Circuit Court mandate to keep Hard Rock Bet offline, the court did not side with them, paving the way for Hard Rock Bet to relaunch in the state.

Meanwhile, the Washington challenge to tribal sports betting moved forward at the Circuit Court level, with Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson vowing to escalate to the Supreme Court if necessary.

And, less than a year after a historic beat down at the polls, two polarizing figures in Reeve Collins and Kasey Thompson filed another California sports betting voter referendum, but it would turn out to be one that basically none of the tribes in the state wanted anything to do with.