Latest Legal Decision in Florida Sides with Seminoles

While the legal machinations are far from over, the latest move gave the Seminole Tribe of Florida a monopoly on sports betting. But the decision is more convoluted than it seems.

Latest Legal Decision in Florida Sides with Seminoles

The Seminole Tribe of Florida recently scored the latest victory in its longstanding quest for sports betting supremacy—a federal appeals court ruled on the last day in June to order the Department of Interior to activate the compact between the tribe and the state.

The compact thus confers a sports betting monopoly for the Hard Rock brand, without worrying about a state constitutional vote to approve sports wagering.

What it means when you come right down to it is the Seminoles can and probably will relaunch its Hard Rock sports betting app. But that’s not all. Oh yeah, the powerful tribe can move forward with two new Florida casinos. And add roulette and craps to its roster of offerings.

You get to do all that, and sports betting doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

But not so fast. Expect an appeal to the federal appeals court decision, paving the way for a showdown with the U.S. Supreme Court. Several anti-gambling figures have vowed to continue the fight.

The decision by the three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded federal gaming law allowed the state of Florida to enter a 30-year agreement with the Seminole Tribe to operate sports betting in Florida. The compact and the additional casino games and new casinos will result in a minimum payment from the tribe to the state of $2.5 billion for a five-year period.

The appellate finding overturned a November 2021 ruling by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. Friedrich scratched the deal in a case brought by West Flagler Associates, former owner of Magic City Casino and current owner of Bonita Spring Poker Room.

West Flagler argued that the Seminoles’ sports betting and casino expansion pact circumvented federal Indian gaming law and the state constitution which requires an amendment to offer new gambling on land outside of tribal territory. What the Seminoles came up with is a “hub-and-spoke” model for sports betting. All online sports wagers from players in Florida, but outside of tribal lands, were carried through the servers on tribal lands.

Friedrich called the rationale “fiction.” For its part, the D.C. Circuit said that as long as the bet is received on reservation land, that is good enough.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) does not prohibit a gaming compact from discussing other topics, including those governing activities “outside Indian lands,” the court said in its judgment, as reported by the Miami Herald.

West Flagler could solicit a ruling from all the judges on the appellate court and appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, There could also be other legal avenues that come to the fore.

And another point which sounds more like it was glommed on the decision like an amendment that doesn’t belong anywhere: Trump National Doral Resort and the Fontainebleau Hotel may obtain casino permits without violating the tribe’s monopoly status or the constitution.

Yeah, a head scratcher.

In a statement following the appeals court’s ruling, Seminole Tribe spokesperson Gary Bitner said the tribe is “reviewing the decision” to determine its next steps. “It is a positive outcome for the Seminole Tribe and the people of Florida and for all of Indian Country,’’ he said.

That’s an accurate summation, Gary.

Bob Jarvis, a law professor and gambling expert at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, told the Orlando Sentinel he’d be surprised if the Seminoles failed to kick off sports wagering sooner rather than later.

Legal experts previously told Sports Handle that whatever the decision by the court, it would likely be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The appellate ruling is just the latest in a series of which began in May 2021 when Florida lawmakers approved a compact with the Seminoles that would allow the tribe to offer digital sports betting throughout Florida as long as every bet flows through a server on Seminole land. The pari-mutuels who filed the suit argued that such a compact violates IGRA, which governs only gambling that happens on tribal lands. IGRA did not deal with digital betting. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court ruled the compact illegal.

The Seminoles kicked off the Hard Rock Digital platform ahead of a decision in November 2021 by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The platform lasted 34 days before the courts demanded it be removed.

Will the Seminoles offer sports betting again even if faced with shutting it down again? Florida sports betting lawyer Daniel Wallach says hold your horses

“Best-case scenario is you’re looking at late this year,” Wallach told PlayFL.

Retail pari-mutuels would also allow patrons to bet on sporting events with a revenue share with the tribe.

Mobile sports betting later this year could be a possibility if the plaintiffs don’t file for a rehearing or appeal the case to a higher court. But that seems unlikely, according to Wallach.

“I think that (the plaintiffs) are going to seek immediate judicial review,” said Wallach, who believes an eventual filing is essential “economic survival.”

“If they cede the state of Florida to the Seminole Tribe for online sports betting, iGaming is going to be next,” Wallach told PlayFL. “One of the down-the-road impacts of this ruling is that it would pave the way for iGaming to be included in another amendment to the compact.

“If the land-based operators lose iGaming and online sports betting and watch the tribe monopolize that activity, as tough as things are now for them, it places their survival in question.”

Wallach said the split of the decision between the D.C. Circuit Court and the Ninth Circuit Court would cause the Supreme Court to take it up.

The 2021 gaming compact will act as a template for tribes in other states as a pathway for mobile sports betting.

“This will be what the California tribes want … and what the Minnesota tribes want, which is exclusivity,” Wallach said. “This ruling will embolden tribes to use IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) in the contracting process.”