The next few days will be pivotal ones for those interested in the fate of sports betting in Florida and the amended gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and state leaders.
On Friday, a federal judge in the District of Columbia gave attorneys representing the Department of the Interior and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland until Tuesday to submit a brief on why the agreement between the Seminoles and the state that allows sports betting off tribal lands, including through online accounts, adheres to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
Throughout the nearly two-hour hearing, US District Judge Dabney Friedrich openly expressed her frustrations at the responses – or the lack thereof – she received from Rebecca Ross, a US Department of Justice attorney representing the government.
Those frustrations started with the government’s failure to adhere to the briefing schedule the judge laid out nearly two months ago. Toward the end of the hearing the judge asked repeatedly if the government interpreted online betting as taking place on tribal land. When Ross started talking about the “unique nature,” Friedrich cut her off and said it’s a simple yes or no question that she couldn’t answer.
It’s hard not to sit here and think that the government’s sole litigation strategy here is simply to delay,” Friedrich said.
Friedrich said that she will try to issue her ruling by Nov. 15, which is when the owners of the Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room said they were told Seminole Gaming would launch online sports betting. However, she would not guarantee that.
Seminoles Kicked Off Mobile Sports Betting Last Week
Online sports betting started last week in Florida as Hard Rock Sportsbook initiated an “Early Access Launch,” according to its website.
The gaming compact that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. signed earlier in the year and the state’s legislature subsequently approved legalized sports betting in the state and gave exclusive control to the tribe. In return, the state is in line to receive $2.5 billion from the tribe over the next five years and $6 billion through 2030.
Besides retail sportsbooks at the Seminole and Hard Rock casinos, the compact also lets the tribe operate mobile sports betting statewide and partner with pari-mutuel operators across the state to install kiosks in their venues.
Magic City and Bonita Springs, both of which are owned by Southwest Florida Enterprises, filed lawsuits in federal courts against state leaders and federal officials. A Florida federal judge dismissed the case against Florida leaders last month.
The plaintiffs claim IGRA does not allow online betting and restricts gaming activity to tribal lands. Since sports betting is otherwise illegal in Florida, they face losing business due to the Seminole Tribe’s online application. They seek either a summary judgement on their behalf or an injunction blocking parts of the sports betting language from taking effect until the court decides.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs said within days of Seminole Gaming’s early launch, the parimutuel operators’ handle was down 35 percent.
Outside of the legal system, a petition drive led by FanDuel and DraftKings is underway. That would allow Florida voters to legalize statewide sports betting for commercial operators.
Long Road Ahead Likely in the Courts
Friday’s hearing showed the complexity of the case. In addition to the parimutuel operators, Friedrich also heard from lawyers representing parties that want the entire compact blocked – not just the sports betting portion allowed off tribal lands. So, they seek a different end result than the parimutuel operators.
On the other side of the courtroom, the federal government is the defendant, but the Seminole Tribe is also seeking to intervene in the case. Tribal leaders have argued that the federal government’s interests are not the same as theirs and they will be affected by the eventual decision in the case.
Remember, back in August, the Interior Department notified Seminole and Florida leaders that its review of the compact could not be completed within the 45-day window. Because of that, federal law considers the compact approved as it adheres to IGRA.
Federal officials did express some concerns about the parimutuel partnership aspect of the agreement as well as another provision that gives the state jurisdiction over patron disputes. However, when it came to online wagering, officials also said they would not read restrictions into the 33-year-old IGRA that do not exist.
So, likely by next Monday, we’ll find out whether Friedrich agrees that having servers on tribal lands qualifies as the bet being placed on tribal land. Odds are, her decision in the case will not be the last one.
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