Seminole tribe of Florida wins sports betting case
In another win for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, a federal appeals court has rejected a plea for a rehearing from pari-mutuel owners. This decision comes after a previous ruling that upheld a multi-billion-dollar agreement granting the tribe authority over statewide sports betting.
In June, a panel of three judges from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned a decision made in November 2021 by a federal judge that had put a stop to the gambling agreement.
The owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida, who had raised concerns about the sports-betting plan, sought a rehearing from the entire appeals court, commonly referred to as an “en banc” hearing. However, on Monday, the court declined the request without providing a comprehensive explanation.
What is the background of this lawsuit?
In 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis and Marcellus Osceola, Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, entered into a 30-year gambling agreement, which granted the tribe authority over sports betting.
Following legislative approval of this agreement, owners of Magic City and Bonita Springs pari-mutuel facilities initiated a legal challenge, asserting that the sports betting provisions violated federal law and posed a substantial and potentially detrimental threat to their businesses.
The agreement featured a sports-betting strategy commonly referred to as the “hub-and-spoke” model, aiming to enable individuals across the state to place online bets. These bets would be processed through computer servers located on tribal land.
This arrangement, known as a compact, specified that bets conducted via a mobile app or other electronic devices would be considered exclusive to the tribe. However, in November 2021, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich declared this plan in conflict with the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which governs gambling on tribal territories.
The basis for this ruling was that the compact allowed gambling to occur off Seminole-owned property, a contention Friedrich referred to as a “fiction.” Consequently, other components of the compact were invalidated, with the judge asserting that U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland had made an incorrect decision in permitting the agreement to take effect.
This decision was appealed by the Department of the Interior, the regulatory authority for tribal gambling.
Then in June, a three-judge panel issued a unanimous ruling overturning the district judge’s decision, contending that she had erred in her interpretation of the IGRA by stating that the compact authorized gambling “both on and off” Indian lands.
The immediate implications of Monday’s ruling on sports betting in Florida remain unclear
While the Seminoles had briefly introduced the Hard Rock SportsBook mobile app, they ceased accepting wagers and deposits in December 2021 following Judge Friedrich’s decision.
A spokesperson for the Seminoles, Gary Bitner, expressed their satisfaction with the appeals court’s decision not to grant an en banc hearing, but there was no indication of whether they planned to resume accepting bets on the app.
Additionally, it remained uncertain whether the pari-mutuels would seek U.S. Supreme Court intervention in the matter. The compact not only granted the Seminoles control over online sports betting but also permitted the tribe to introduce craps and roulette at its casinos.
Moreover, it paved the way for the Seminoles to potentially establish three additional casinos on tribal land in Broward County.
In return, the tribe committed to paying the state a minimum of $2.5 billion over the initial five years, with the possibility of contributing billions more over the pact’s three-decade duration.
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