Seminole Tribe Sports Betting in Florida Could Come Back Online after New Court Ruling

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled in favor of the Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida in a landmark sports betting case. The ruling overturns a previous decision that the tribal gaming compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The Seminole Tribe is the owner of the global Hard Rock International casino and hospitality chain. They operate two flagship casino resorts in the state, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood in Fort Lauderdale (pictured) and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

It launched an online sportsbook in Florida in 2021 after signing a new gaming compact with the state.

However, two Florida-based gambling operators sued to block the compact, and the Hard Rock Sportsbook app was closed after just one month.

This ruling paves the way for the Seminole Tribe to resume online sports betting in Florida.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is pleased with today’s unanimous decision,” said Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner.

“It is a positive outcome for the Seminole tribe and the people of Florida and for all of Indian Country. The tribe is fully reviewing the decision to determine its next steps.”

A Contested Compact

The Seminole Tribe and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) agreed on a new 30-year tribal gaming compact in April 2021. It granted the tribe exclusive rights to online sports betting.

The agreement also allowed the Seminoles to add roulette and craps to their Florida casinos. In exchange, the Tribe was to give a minimum payment of $2.5 billion over five years.

The Florida Legislature subsequently approved the revenue-sharing and gaming expansion agreement.

However, the provision allowing the tribe to take bets over the internet was not popular with competing operators in Florida.

West Flagler Associates, which owned Magic City Casino in Miami and the Bonita Springs Poker Room at the time, filed a lawsuit arguing that the state’s decision to allow the tribe to take sports bets over the internet violated IGRA.

The company named the Department of the Interior as the defendant, since its Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the deal.

In November 2021, U.S. District Court judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia ruled that the Tribe was, in fact, violating IGRA.

The Court’s Decision

Now, nearly two years later, the three-judge appeals court unanimously ruled that the Indian gaming regulations do not prevent the Seminoles from accepting sports bets remotely.

“IGRA does not prohibit a gaming compact — which is … an agreement between a tribe and a state — from discussing other topics, including those governing activities ‘outside Indian lands’”, the ruling said.

The court further clarified that the compact itself only authorizes betting that occurs on the Tribe’s lands, satisfying IGRA’s requirements.

“We will continue working with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to ensure the success of this historic compact — the largest gaming compact in U.S. history — which will lead to over $20 billion in revenues for the people of Florida,’’ said Jason Mahon, spokesperson for DeSantis.

Looking Ahead

While this ruling is a victory for the Seminole Tribe, it’s likely that the decision could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 “This would dramatically alter the national gaming landscape, because it will now be the blueprint for online sports betting and internet gaming across the country,” gaming attorney Daniel Wallach told the Miami Herald.

“It sets up a U.S. Supreme Court battle over the breadth and scope of IGRA.”

The ruling could have far-reaching implications for tribal gaming operators in the US.

Tribes across the country that have Class III gaming compacts with sports betting may seek online sports betting privileges from their state governors. That potentially could lead to a legal fight that could reach the highest courts in the U.S.

Some Tribes have historically difficult relationships with their neighboring states over gaming compacts, as shown recently by the standoff in ongoing negotiations between New York state and the Seneca Nation.

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