Seminole Tribe Dismisses Sports Betting Challenges as ‘Strawmen’

Posted on: September 1, 2023, 10:05h.

Last updated on: September 1, 2023, 10:05h.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida dismisses the federal lawsuit challenging its Class III compact, which grants online sports betting privileges to the Hard Rock owner in 2021 through an agreement with Governor Ron DeSantis (R). The tribe asserts that the lawsuit lacks merit and should be rejected.

Seminole Tribe sports betting Florida tribal gaming
The Florida State Seminoles kick off their 2023 season ranked eighth in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. But Floridians still can’t bet on the team’s success via a regulated sportsbook. The Seminole Tribe and Gov. Ron DeSantis hope to soon remedy that via a federal court in DC. (Image: Getty)

In April 2021, DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe, with their exclusive rights to table games and slot machines in Florida, excluding Miami-Dade and Broward counties, reached a new compact. The agreement granted the Seminoles online sports betting rights, as well as craps and roulette. In return, the tribe guaranteed the state a minimum of $2.5 billion over the first five years of the deal, with an estimated tax benefit of more than $6 billion by 20230.

However, the compact was put on hold due to a lawsuit filed by West Flagler Associates, a Miami-based entity. West Flagler, the owner of the Bonita Springs Poker Room and previously of the Magic City Casino in Miami, argued that the US Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs erred in approving the Seminole-DeSantis compact. The plaintiffs alleged that the compact violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) by allowing remote sports betting from non-sovereign lands.

DC District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich agreed and invalidated the Seminole compact in a November 2021 ruling, leading to the temporary shutdown of the Hard Rock Sportsbook app.

Appeals Court Overturns Dabney

The Seminoles appealed Judge Friedrich’s decision to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In June, a three-judge panel in the appeals court unanimously overturned Friedrich, stating that IGRA only regulates tribal gaming and does not prohibit discussions between a tribe and a state regarding activities “outside Indian lands.”

The Seminoles argue that their online sportsbook servers will remain on sovereign land, ensuring that the gaming operations remain tribal. West Flagler attorneys claim that Florida authorized commercial gaming unlawfully and that the state’s voters have the exclusive right to decide on commercial casino gambling through Amendment 3, approved in 2018.

The appeals court judges countered, stating that it is not the federal government’s role to decide whether tribal gaming can be conducted from non-tribal land within Florida.

“Whether it is otherwise lawful for a patron to place bets from non-tribal land within Florida may be a question for that State’s courts, but it is not the subject of this litigation and not for us to decide,”

Case Continues

West Flagler is continuing its legal fight and has requested an “en banc” hearing from the full US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. At least six of the 11 judges must agree to review the case for a full bench hearing. The likelihood of this happening is low, as the DC appeals court has not granted an “en banc” hearing in the past two years.

In response to the en banc request, Seminole attorneys have filed a response claiming that West Flagler’s arguments are “strawmen” and “erroneous.” They argue that IGRA does not place any conditions or restrictions on gaming on non-Indian lands and that a state has the authority to determine whether and under what conditions to allow gaming within its jurisdiction.

The tribal attorneys emphasize that the 2018 referendum does not apply to “casino gambling on tribal lands.” The decision on the en banc request by the DC appeals court is expected to take weeks or even months, further prolonging the hold on legal sports betting for Floridians.

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