Florida Sports Betting Law Faces Legal Challenge Over Mobile Component

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Florida sports betting law has been challenged in the court less than two months after the governor signed the Seminole sports betting bill in late May. It was expected as the new compact signed between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe had included a provision, effectively allowing the tribe statewide mobile betting.

The new sports betting law was eventually challenged on Friday when two stakeholders – Magic City Casino and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp – filed a “Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief” in federal court against the governor.

What Do the Complainants Say?

The complainants say the new law violates the federal oversight, in allowing the Seminole tribe to extend statewide mobile sports betting.

Though online sports betting is taking place in most jurisdictions, the complainants believe the Florida law apparently runs afoul of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which restricts sports betting on tribal lands.

According to the 67-page brief submitted by the plaintiffs, online gambling, including sports betting is banned in Florida. “The Implementing Law purports to legalize its, but only if conducted by the (Seminole) Tribe under the 2021 Compact. It remains illegal otherwise.”

The brief further said that sports betting within Florida are ‘deemed to have taken place on Indian lands because the ‘servers’ and ‘devices’ receiving the bets are to be located on the Tribe’s reservations. ‘Deeming’ the wager to have been placed on Seminole’s lands because the servers are located there violates decades of well-established precedent interpreting applicable federal law.

While terming the State-Seminole deal a legal fiction, the plaintiffs said a bet must be placed both where the bettor and the casino are each located.

Atlantic City Model?

The word “deemed” is of particular importance as it paved the way for New Jersey to offer statewide online casino gaming in 2013, in spite of state law that restricts almost every gambling activity within Atlantic City. New Jersey lawmakers had justified the law which allowed wagers to be taken place through an online server located in Atlantic City.

But sports betting in Garden State and many other states with similar scenarios have witnessed smooth sailing, with no federal-tribal issues.

Florida’s new compact is currently under a 45-day review phase by the US Department of the Interior, which can approve, reject or decline to respond to it. In all cases, except for rejection, the compact will be deemed as approved.

What Can Happen Now?

In March, the US Senate confirmed the appointment of first Native American Deb Haaland as Secretary, raising hopes for proponents that Florida sports betting will be a smooth process.

But plaintiffs think otherwise.

Though the governor was brought to the court, the Seminole Tribe remains untouched by this lawsuit from providing any sports betting at all.

Plaintiffs said they realize that the Sunshine State could compact with the Seminole Tribe to allow in-person sports betting on its reservations. However, the state cannot bypass its own laws or federal law in a bid to legalize off-reservation sports betting for the Tribe only, said the aggrieved parties.

 The Florida law includes a clause encouraging the tribe to strike sports betting deals with gambling destinations such as that of the plaintiffs. However, there is no substantial penalty if the tribe fails to do so.

The plaintiffs are Magic City Casino – a Miami-based licensed parimutuel facility – and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. – a poker room, which also offers simulcasting on sports like horse racing.

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