Seminole Tribe’s Amicus Brief Granted in Florida Sports Betting Court Case

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The Seminole Tribe of Florida has stepped into the ongoing dispute over mobile sports betting in the Sunshine State, despite not being legally involved in the case that contests their recently opened Florida sports betting monopoly.

The Hard Rock Bet operators have asked the Florida Supreme Court to dismiss the challenge presented by rival gambling interests West Flagler Associates.

The Seminole Tribe cannot directly be involved in the case, as it has sovereign immunity. However, it has exercised its right to file an amicus brief, which the Court has accepted.

West Flagler’s case is actually being bought against the State of Florida and the Department of the Interior, both of which ratified the Seminoles gaming compact that eventually led to last month’s launch of online and retail sports betting in Florida.

Legal Challenge to Mobile Sports Betting

West Flagler Associates Ltd., a cardroom casino, and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., a poker room, have challenged the compact’s clause which permits mobile sports betting from any location in Florida, as long as the bets are routed through servers located on tribal land.

This arrangement, known as the “hub and spoke” betting system, was approved by the Florida Legislature in 2021 as part of the Seminole gaming compact.

The challengers argue that this compact violates both the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which regulates tribal gambling, and Florida’s Amendment 3, passed by voters in 2018, requiring a public referendum for any expansion of casino gambling in the state.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court this year upheld an earlier ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which essentially certified the sports-betting agreement. West Flagler appealed and asked for a stay (a pause on the decision) while they did so. But that stay was rescinded after just a week.

This led to the surprise relaunch last month of Hard Rock Bet in Florida. The surprise being that West Flagler’s legal challenge is not quite over.

As soon as the app was launched, West Flagler sent a motion to the Florida Supreme Court to once again shut down Hard Rock Bet in the state while it formulated its case against the sportsbook. However, that request was also rejected by the Court.

The Seminoles have now been allowed to have their opinion put forward in the Florida case.

Tribe’s Arguments in Amicus Brief

In its amicus brief, the Tribe asserts that Amendment 3 does not prohibit sports betting arrangements and is consistent with federal law.

The brief emphasizes that Amendment 3 preserves the right of the state and Tribes to negotiate gaming compacts under IGRA for casino gambling on Tribal lands.

The Tribe argues that the legislature has the authority to deem the initiation of online sports wagering to occur in one location or another as a matter of law, and that Amendment 3 did not alter or remove that authority.

“The Implementing Law dictates that, for purposes of Florida law, the placement of wagers off the Tribe’s lands is deemed to occur on the Tribe’s lands, where those wagers are accepted,” the Seminoles legal team wrote.

“Thus, the wagers are considered to be placed on Tribal lands both to carry out a regulatory allocation of jurisdiction pursuant to IGRA, and to authorize their placement as a matter of law, as long as they are permitted under the 2021 Compact.”

Moreover, the Seminoles told the Florida Court that their gaming compact is modeled on laws enacted by six other states that have authorized forms of online gaming.

The New Jersey sports betting market, as well Michigan and West Virginia sports betting regulations, all legally define the location of the bet (for sportsbooks, at least) as being where the server that processed it is located.

Current and Future Impact

The outcome of this legal challenge will not only affect the Seminole Tribe and other gambling entities in Florida, but also set a tone for how issues of state sovereignty, voter rights, and Tribal compacts are navigated in the complex landscape of U.S. gambling laws. As the Florida Supreme Court deliberates on this issue, all eyes are on what could be a landmark decision in the ongoing evolution of sports betting in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles are continuing to offer online sports betting and retail sportsbooks in Florida with a monopoly on the market.

It also took the opportunity to launch craps and roulette at its six Florida casinos, as allowed by the compact it deems now fully certified.

It’s impossible to know how much sports betting has made Hard Rock Bet in Florida so far without the operator releasing that information. But it has revealed it has taken some high stakes bets during its opening month, including one $200,000 wager.

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