Calling it a “fiction,” a Washington, D.C.-based judge late Monday ruled that a deal giving the Seminole Tribe control of online sports betting in Florida violates a federal law that regulates gaming on tribal lands.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s ruling invalidated a sports betting plan in one of the nation’s most highly sought-after markets and scrapped a deal negotiated by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Sports betting was included in an agreement, known as a compact, signed by the governor and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola, Jr. this spring, and approved by the Legislature during a May special session. The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees Indian gambling issues, signed off on the deal in August. But in Monday’s 25-page decision, Friedrich ruled that the deal violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA, which creates a framework for gambling activity on tribal lands. The ruling centered on gamblers being able to place sports bets online from across the state, with the wagers run through computer servers on tribal property.
Although the compact deems sports betting to occur at the location of the tribe’s servers, “this court cannot accept that fiction,” Friedrich wrote.
Under the 30-year deal, the Seminoles agreed to pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years in exchange for controlling sports betting and being allowed to add craps and roulette to the tribe’s casino operations.
The “hub-and-spoke” sports-betting plan was designed to allow gamblers anywhere in Florida --- except on other tribal lands --- to place bets with mobile apps or other devices, with the compact saying bets “shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.”
Owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida filed a lawsuit against U.S. Dept. of Interior Sec. Deb Haaland and her agency alleging that the sports-betting plan violated
federal laws and would cause a “significant and potentially devastating” impact on their businesses.
Friedrich’s ruling, which came weeks after the tribe quietly launched its mobile sports-betting app, injects uncertainty into the Seminoles’ future sports-betting activities.
The tribe’s Hard Rock app was still accepting wagers Tuesday morning, and a spokesman did not say whether the Seminoles plan to shut it down.
“The Seminole Tribe is reviewing the judge’s opinion and carefully considering its next steps,” Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the tribe, said in an email.
But Magic City called Friedrich’s ruling a “victory for family-owned businesses like ours who pay their share in taxes and believe the free market should guide the business operations of gaming venues.”
Friedrich found that the government’s reliance on Florida law to defend the compact “misses the mark” because the agreement authorizes gaming off and on Indian lands.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday in Broward County, DeSantis said he negotiated the agreement with the tribe because he felt the state wasn’t
receiving enough money under a previous deal with the Seminoles, whose Tampa casino is one of the nation’s most profitable. The governor, a lawyer, acknowledged that the hub-and-spoke plan was an “unsettled legal issue.”
The governor said the state, which is not a party in the lawsuit, would support an appeal by the federal government.