Legal Challenges Anticipated as Florida Legalizes Sports Betting Through Tribal Gaming Compact

  • Approved by the House on Wednesday, the compact will introduce online and retail sports betting
  • The federal government may take issue with a rule requiring voters to OK a gambling expansion
  • Gambling opponents such as the No Casinos group expressed a desire to fight the legislation
  • If made law, the compact could allow Donald Trump to introduce a casino at his Doral golf resort
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
A Florida sports betting tribal compact just requires the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis (pictured above) after House approval this week, but lawmakers are expecting legal challenges from the federal government and gambling opponents. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Update May 25, 2021: Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 2-A into law on Tuesday, authorizing the gambling compact he agreed with the Seminole Tribe. He also signed off on SB 4-A, which seeks to set up the Florida Gaming Control Commission. A third measure approved by the governor was SB 8-A. It will allow pari-mutuel betting businesses to operate card rooms without having to host jai-alai, quarter horse racing, or harness horse racing.

Challenges on the horizon

Florida lawmakers made history this week by approving a 30-year tribal gaming compact, legalizing sports wagering in the casinos of the Seminole Tribe. Legal hurdles remain for the state’s betting backers over a constitutional amendment, however.

Agreed by Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this year, the deal gives the Seminole exclusive rights to offer online and retail wagering in Florida. It passed comfortably through the House on Wednesday with a vote of 97-17 after receiving Senate approval the prior day.

lawmakers are anticipating legal issues from the federal government and gambling opposition groups

The legislation will go to the governor’s desk next for his final approval, but lawmakers are anticipating legal issues from the federal government and gambling opposition groups. The concerns center around a three-year-old constitutional amendment.

Outside of sports betting, the bill could also allow Florida to hand out additional gaming licenses, paving the way for former president Donald Trump’s family company to pursue a casino at the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort.

Amendment 3 causes issues

The legal issues surrounding Florida’s new tribal gaming compact pertain to one specific rule in the state’s law, Amendment 3. Passed in 2018, the rule could require voters to approve sports betting on the ballot box before it is signed into law.

Sports betting backers have argued that wagering would take place on the Seminole reservation, and as such would not fall under the jurisdiction of the amendment. To allow for online wagering, the compact asserts that a bet is made where it is accepted, as opposed to where it is placed.

Seminole compact must receive the approval of the Department of the Interior within a 45-day window

However, before it can come into effect, the Seminole compact must receive the approval of the Department of the Interior within a 45-day window. In the past, the federal government has asserted that a bet is made both where it is placed and where it is accepted, potentially placing Florida’s betting plans in jeopardy.

Additionally, gambling opposition groups in Florida have indicated that they intend to take legal action against the compact. In a tweet on Wednesday, the No Casinos group expressed a desire to fight the legislation:

Lawmakers expect legal action

Multiple legislators have made clear that they are anticipating a legal battle over the new tribal gaming compact. On Wednesday, House Speaker Chris Sprowls told reporters: “The reality is that’s going to be resolved by a court. We expect that this is probably going to be litigated.” Similarly, Rep. Sam Garrison, a backer of the legislation, described the compact as “an open legal question.”

We’re going to lose, and we’re going to see this on the ballot”

Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Grieco described it as “intellectually dishonest” to claim that the passage of sports betting did not constitute an expansion of gambling. He asserted that the legislation would eventually lose in court. “We’re going to lose, and we’re going to see this on the ballot,” Grieco commented.

An open door to Trump

In March, Eric Trump, the son of former US president Donald Trump, described his father’s Florida-based Doral golf resort as “a natural choice” for a casino in the state. If the Seminole compact makes it through any upcoming legal challenges, it could allow the government to provide the Trump Organization with a gaming license for the property.

The tribe’s opposition has proven a major obstacle in efforts to dish out additional casino licenses in the state. As part of the new compact, the Seminole agreed not to interfere if the state provides a gambling license to any property located more than 15 miles from its Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood, which would include the Doral golf resort.

Donald Trump boasts a close personal relationship with Governor Ron DeSantis. The governor worked with Trump in the build-up to his own election in 2018, and strongly supported his presidential re-election efforts last year. Florida Republicans also control the House, Senate, and executive branch in the state.