Seminole Tribe Takes ‘Oscar’ For Thwarting Florida Gamblers

Written By Hill Kerby on May 27, 2022
The Seminole Tribe won

One thing is for sure about casino gambling (and now sports betting) in Florida. The Seminole Tribe will be involved. Recently, The Seminole Tribe won “Oscars” for thwarting Florida gamblers on sports betting.

The tribe recently snagged 10 awards at the Pollies, dubbed “The Oscars of Political Advertising.” Six of those were first-place prizes. That was more than any other competitor in the country. The tribe collected the hardware mainly because of its successful efforts to keep competing sports betting measures off the 2022 ballot.

In other words, the only way Florida sports betting launches before 2024 is if the Seminoles win the legal battle over the gaming compact. When the tribe made a deal with Florida lawmakers, the compact essentially gave the tribe total control over sports betting in the state.

However, a U.S. District Court judge struck down the deal. The Seminole Tribe began the appeals process, but that could take years to settle. While Florida sports betters are forced to wait … again.

Tribe strikes deal on sports betting

Thanks to previous gaming compacts with the state, the Seminoles are basically the only entity allowed to operate casinos, of which it has six. That agreement has allowed the tribe to take advantage of a near-monopoly in Florida.

The Seminoles own all but one casino in Florida. It is located in Miami and is owned by the Miccosukee Tribe.

With legalized sports betting growing popularity nationwide, the tribe sought to craft a new compact to legalize it in the Sunshine State. Unsurprisingly, the Seminoles wished to keep all sports betting action under its umbrella. Like it has with pretty much all other forms of wagering in Florida.

At first, they succeeded.

In April 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribal Council came to terms on a 30-year agreement to legalize sports betting. Through a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model, the deal made the tribe the centerpiece of the potential market.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act killed the compact, at least temporarily

The model gave the tribe complete exclusivity over mobile and internet betting. Furthermore, they would take a significant piece of the revenue generated at any retail sportsbook run by a pari-mutuel.

The following month, lawmakers voted in favor of the new contract. Everything seemed to be following its prescribed path. The Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app even launched in November.

Just a few weeks after the book’s launch, however, Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. According to the 1987 legislation, any betting with tribal entities must be done on tribal land. Friedrich said that since bettors could be located anywhere in the state, it violated federal standards.

This ruling effectively ended Florida sports betting and the compact, leaving the old arrangement in effect. Sports betting in Florida would remain illegal at least in the near term.

Out-of-state entities focus on Florida

The federal ruling against its deal with the state isn’t the only battle the Seminole Tribe is fighting, Out-of-state operators have turned up the heat on sports betting as some of the larger players in the space want a piece of the action.

The Seminoles have a lot of potential revenue at stake with the ruling. So far, it has enjoyed almost no casino competition in the third-largest state in the nation.

It makes sense that it would want things to remain that way. Any competition in the sports betting market would undoubtedly cut into the tribe’s bottom line.

FanDuel and DraftKings fund a ballot initiative

Florida is one of the most attractive untapped sports betting markets in the nation. Heavy-hitters such as FanDuel and DraftKings began actively pursuing a ballot initiative that could give them access to Florida sports betting.

Combined, the two companies contributed more than $32 million through 2021 to a political action committee called Florida Education Champions. The PAC is the driving force behind an initiative that seeks to break up a possible sports betting monopoly and allow out-of-state operators to run Florida sportsbooks.

Florida Education Champions was in charge of the signature-gathering process for the measure. They needed 891,589 signatures to get the issue in front of voters.

But the tribe had other plans.

The Seminoles backed a PAC called “Standing Up for Florida.” The tribe donated more than $10 million to the group, which focused on keeping Florida Education Champions from reaching the signature threshold.

Ultimately, the Seminole Tribe got their wish. The initiative failed to receive enough signatures to make it to the 2022 ballot. But a judge gave the initiative a headstart for the following election cycle and DraftKings CEO Jason Robins is optimistic that the initiative will get on the 2024 ballot.

Settling it at the polls

For its efforts, the Seminole Tribe won “Oscars” for thwarting Florida gamblers on sports betting. But the tribe is only one player in this muddled mess. It could easily be Florida voters who decide the sports betting issue, especially if Friedrich’s decision isn’t overturned in the appeals court.

A decision on the tribe’s appeal isn’t expected until late 2022 at the absolute earliest. 2023 is the more likely timeframe. If the ruling stands, there will be a free-for-all on the 2024 ballot. That’s where DraftKings and FanDuel are focused.

Sports betting will eventually become legalized in Florida. Right now, though, the picture remains blurred.

Photo by Shutterstock / Felix Miziozkinov
Hill Kerby Avatar
Written by
Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.

View all posts by Hill Kerby