Gaming Compact and Florida Online Sports Betting Thrown Out By U.S. District Judge
Florida online sports betting and the much-debated gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe are both dead.
In a worst-case scenario for the state and the Seminole Tribe, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich released an opinion late Monday evening that effectively threw out the entire 30-year Florida gaming compact after determining it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
Florida Online Sports Betting Is No More
“The Court will hold that the Compact violates IGRA and grant the West Flagler plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment,” Friedrich wrote in her opinion.
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. Additionally, the gaming compact allowed Seminole Tribe casinos to offer roulette and craps, and allowed the expansion of tribal casinos at several locations.
Despite facing several legal obstacles since its approval, the Seminole Tribe surprisingly launched the Hard Rock Sportsbook app earlier this month with little to no fanfare. As of Monday evening it was still in operation and taking bets.
In-person sports betting, which had yet to be launched at Florida Hard Rock casinos, will also be thrown out.
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 nearly two weeks ago to Friedrich in a Washington, D.C., district court hearing.
Gaming Compact Violated IGRA
Ultimately, Friedrich determined the compact violated the conditions set forth by IGRA that limits tribal gaming to the confines of tribal lands. The Seminole Tribe argued in the gaming compact that because the servers that processed the online sports bets were located on tribal land, then the bets themselves were placed on tribal lands.
“And although the Compact ‘deem[s]’ all sports betting to occur at the location of the Tribe’s ‘sports book(s)’ and supporting servers, see Compact § III(CC)(2), this Court cannot accept that fiction. When a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by “deeming” their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not,” she wrote.
Interestingly, when Ross and her legal team presented supplemental briefings to Friedrich, the defendants seemed to take a new approach, 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.
“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 argued in the briefing.
Future of Florida Online Sports Betting
The possibility of Florida online sports betting in 2021 has died with the gaming compact, but the state still has several options it can explore. However, none of these will allow for the possibility of online sports betting anytime soon.
“This decision does not foreclose other avenues for authorizing online sports betting in Florida. The State and the Tribe may agree to a new compact, with the Secretary’s approval, that allows online gaming solely on Indian lands. Alternatively, Florida citizens may authorize such betting across their State through a citizens’ initiative. See Fl. Const. art. X, §§ 30(c). What the Secretary may not do, however, is approve future compacts that authorize conduct outside IGRA’s scope,” Friedrich wrote.
Florida can pass new legislation in its upcoming 2022 legislative session that legalizes online sports betting or count on a November 2022 ballot initiative backed by FanDuel and DraftKings to open up the state to numerous online sportsbooks.
Either way, it looks like online sports betting won’t be a possibility for the Sunshine State until 2023 at the earliest.