Feds, Seminoles Face March 21 Deadline

The U.S. Court of Appeals has given the Interior Department and the Seminole Tribe until March 21 to propose how they will appeal a district judge’s rejection of a gaming compact, signed in May by Governor Ron DeSantis and Seminole Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. (l.).

Feds, Seminoles Face March 21 Deadline

The U.S. Department of Interior and the Seminole Tribe have appealed U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s November 22 ruling that invalidated the tribe’s gaming compact.

Recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit gave lawyers for the federal agency and the tribe until March 21 to propose how they want to proceed with briefs.

The original lawsuit was brought by West Flagler Associates, operator of Magic City Casino, and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., operator of the Bonita Springs Poker Room. They sued to stop the tribe’s exclusive right to operate online sports betting. Friedrich ruled the Interior Department should not have granted federal approval for the compact last August, declaring it to be unconstitutional.

Under the compact, the state would have received $500 million in annual revenue sharing. The tribe and state have reverted to the conditions of the 2010 compact, which provides $350 million in annual revenue sharing.

The two appeals, by the Interior Department and the Seminole Tribe, have been consolidated into a single case. Regarding the briefs, the court declared, “The parties are strongly urged to submit a joint proposal and are reminded that the court looks with extreme disfavor on repetitious submissions and will, where appropriate, require a joint brief of aligned parties with words not to exceed the standard allotment for a single brief.”

Because of the compact rejection, the expansions the tribe planned are on hold, including Hard Rock Sportsbook online sports betting.

Meanwhile, the Florida Senate voted 37-2 to establish a state Gaming Control Commission, which was required under the now-rejected compact. The commission will consist of five members, subject to Senate confirmation. The legislation now goes to the House.

Currently the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation regulates gambling, but that responsibility would transfer to the new gaming commission. Tribal gambling is regulated by federal Indian gaming laws. to regulate expanded gambling.

State Senator Jeff Brandes was one of the two opposing votes. He said, “What does the gaming commission do now do that there’s no compact? Do they have a real job? Is this the best job in the state of Florida, to be on the gaming commission?”

State Senator Travis Hutson, who led the 2021 legislature’s push to expand gambling, replied, “I think the best job in the state of Florida is to be a Florida senator.” Brandes responded, “You definitely have to do more work as a Senator than you’re going have to do on the gaming commission.”

Hutson then stated, the new gaming commission will supervise the shift of duties from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Brandes responded, “Just to be clear, their job now is to move buildings or to create a new division? And manage backroom card games and cockfights in Miami?”

Hutson replied, “They are going to set up that new agency, and then barring pending court decisions, depending on what happens, we’re back under the old compact, so they have to make sure we’re regulating the old compact.”

Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said since tribes generally are not subject to state gambling laws, he was unsure how the new gaming commission would affect the tribe’s gambling operations, if at all.