Florida's online sports betting fate now in federal judge's hands
After being granted an extension following a less-than-stellar hearing last week, the Department of Justice yesterday filed additional supplemental briefings defending the legality of Florida online sports betting in the state’s gaming compact. The fate of Florida online sports betting is now completely in the hands of U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich.
The federal judge said she will likely make her summary judgment by or around Monday, Nov. 15. Until a decision is made, Florida online sports betting will be allowed to continue in the state.
Fate of Florida online sports betting hanging in balance
Florida, the Seminole Tribe, and Florida pari-mutuels are holding their breath for a decision, as Friedrich will determine if the state’s online sports betting program will be allowed to continue.
Florida’s 30-year gaming compact granted the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to online sports betting through a “hub-and-spoke” system, as well as expanded gaming rights, in exchange for at least $2.5 billion over the first five years. The “hub and spoke” system allows sports bets to be placed anywhere in the state as long as they’re processed by computer servers located on Tribal Land.
West Flagler Associates, on behalf of several Florida pari-mutuels, and Rebecca M. Ross, counsel for U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, presented their arguments for online sports betting last week to Friedrich in a Washington, D.C., district court hearing. Friedrich allowed Ross and the federal government to submit additional briefings supporting their position after last week’s frustrating hearing, where Ross made it clear the Department of Justice was not ready to fully discuss its position on online sports betting.
Defendants argue for ‘permissible hybrid approach’
The federal defendants yesterday submitted their supplemental briefings and argued the Florida gaming compact is a “permissible hybrid approach” where online sports betting that occurs off tribal land is authorized under state law, and gaming activity that occurs on tribal land is authorized by IGRA pursuant to the compact. Nothing in IGRA, or federal law, prohibits this type of hybrid approach, they noted.
The defendants seems to take a new approach in their briefings, arguing that online sports bets in the state do indeed occur outside of Indian lands, but should be authorized by state law, not by IGRA.
Throughout the process the state and Seminole Tribe have argued that all online sports bets are technically placed on tribal lands due to the server locations. The servers are located in tribal casinos, on tribal land, and therefore the bets coming in from anywhere in the state are technically placed on tribal lands. They argued this technically does not run afoul of IGRA, which prohibits bets to be placed off tribal land.
“Federal Defendants agree that under federal law, the location of the bettor determines where the bet is placed, and thus federal law as to the location of the better cannot be changed or altered through a tribal-state compact. Accordingly, if a bet is placed within Florida, but outside the confines of the Tribe’s Indian lands, the bet occurs outside of Indian lands and must be authorized by state law, rather than IGRA,” the defendants argue in the briefing.
The state and tribe are free to decide where the gaming occurs for state or tribal law purposes. IGRA permits the tribe and the state to allocate jurisdiction and regulatory authority over gaming activity addressed in the compact consistent with federal law, the defendants argued in the briefing.
“Plaintiffs construe the provision of the Compact stating that online sports wagers are ‘deemed’ to occur on the Tribe’s Indian lands as a ‘legal fiction’ that unlawfully authorizes the placement of online sports wagers in Florida off of those lands. This characterization reflects a misunderstanding of the Compact, as well as compacting generally between tribes and states,” the defendants wrote.
Friedrich will make her final judgment next week.