Florida Sports Betting Benched by Fed Court Ruling

Written By Marian Rosin on November 24, 2021

On Monday, a judge’s ruling slammed the door — at least for now — on all legal sports betting in Florida. Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled and vacated a compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe.

Even so, as of Tuesday, the Hard Rock Sportsbook app remained at least partially active.

However, due to the decision and pending an appeal and a possible stay of the order, Hard Rock — the first and only sports betting app currently operating in Florida — will have to stop taking sports wagers in the state.

The Seminole Tribe started offering digital wagering via Hard Rock on November 1. (The Tribe does not yet offer in-person sports betting.)

Center of the case

At the center of West Flagler Associates vs. Haaland was the West Flagler parimutuel operators’ contention that the compact legalized by the Dept. of the Interior led by Secretary Deb Haaland violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Judge Friedrich agreed.

Regardless, under the IGRA, all gambling authorized by state compacts has to take place on tribal lands. Friedrich noted this means:

“Within the limits of any Indian reservation,”

“Held in trust by the United States for the benefit of any Indian tribe,” or,

“Over which an Indian tribe exercises governmental power.” 25 U.S.C. § 2703(4)

As indicated by Friedrich in her opinion,

“Because the State has not entered a similar agreement with any other entity, the Compact grants the [Seminole] Tribe a monopoly over both all online betting and all wagers on major sporting events.”

In addition to her decision, Friedrich found that the plaintiffs would be “injured” by this monopoly.

In response to the Seminole Compact’s contention (and a notion backed by DeSantis, who the DOI negotiated the deal), any online sports wager placed in Florida can be considered made on tribal land.

No matter where the bettor is located in the state by “supporting servers,” the Judge stated that,

“This Court cannot accept that fiction.”

She further wrote,

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.”

Plaintiff West Flagler Associates, which does business as Magic City Casino, applauded Friedrich’s decision in a statement:

“Last night’s ruling was a victory for family-owned businesses like ours who pay their fair share in taxes and believe the free market should guide the business operations of gaming venues.”

What now?

Although the Department of the Interior will most likely appeal to Friedrich’s ruling, the appeal will have a hearing by three judges at the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. However, that process could take some six months.

Notably, The DOI could request a stay of the circuit court’s opinion to keep the Compact in place, and Floridians would still engage in online sports betting.

Further fallout, possible action

Friedrich vacated the entire compact and ordered the 2010 compact reinstated, which halts the Seminoles’ plans to expand their retail gaming, for which the state would have received $2.5 billion over five years. However, the Seminoles look to join the case again after being turned away in the lower court.

She noted that sports betting can be legal in Florida via a new compact or “citizens’ initiative.”

DraftKings and FanDuel have funded a political committee trying to gather the necessary signatures to get on the ballot a statewide digital wagering initiative that would not confine online sports betting to tribal lands.

 

Photo by YES Market Media / Shutterstock.com
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