Federal Officials Give Green Light to Tribal Sports Betting Deal in Florida

  • The US Department of the Interior has approved the betting deal secured by Gov. Ron DeSantis
  • The Seminoles could begin offering sports betting as early as October 15 under the agreement
  • The deal is facing a lawsuit from Southwest Parimutuels over off-reservation betting claims
  • Other opponents have raised issue with the market’s monopolization and a new casino provision
Florida flag with fireworks
Florida residents could soon have access to legal sports betting with federal officials approving a new tribal gaming compact between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A final federal approval

Florida’s Seminole Tribe is one step closer to introducing sports betting. Federal officials have now approved a compact deal secured by Governor Ron DeSantis, paving the way for sports betting at seven casinos across the state.

DeSantis signed SB 2-A in May, authorizing the 30-year gambling pact with the Seminole. However, as with all tribal gambling legislation in the US, the bill required federal approval before it could officially become law.

billions in new revenue to benefit Floridians”

The US Department of the Interior announced its approval in a letter addressed to the governor on Friday night. The body had a 45-day window to okay the deal. In the letter, the Department confirmed that it had taken “no action to approve or dissaprove” the compact within this time limit, resulting in its approval by default.

In a statement, DeSantis described the approval as “a big deal” for the state of Florida. “This mutually-beneficial agreement will grow our economy, expand tourism and recreation and provide billions in new revenue to benefit Floridians,” he commented.

The Seminoles could begin offering retail and online sports betting as early as October 15 under the agreement.

It’s not over yet

Although the federal government’s approval has pushed the Seminole compact over the finish line from a legislative perspective, there are still a number of hurdles to cross. Lawmakers are anticipating a string of legal challenges over the controversial deal.

The first of those challenges arrived in July courtesy of parimutuel gambling operator Southwest Parimutuels. The owner of the Miami-based Magic City Casino and the poker room Bonita-Fort Myers Corp filed a lawsuit against the governor to block the deal. It argues that the compact violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which prohibits betting outside of tribal lands.

The lawsuit does not attempt to block sports betting altogether, just the inclusion of mobile wagering. Southwest Parimutuels has argued that the compact would allow bettors to place their wagers off the Seminole reservation. Meanwhile, betting backers claim gamblers would place wagers through servers on tribal land.

A bill put forward by two US congressmen in July could help Gov. DeSantis in his battle against Southwest Parimutuels. HB 4308 seeks to “remove federal barriers” for mobile wagering by officially clarifying the dispute over tribal betting. It would define online wagers accepted via tribal servers as bets taking place on reservations.

Other legal challenges

Top sportsbook operators such as FanDuel and DraftKings have also raised issue with the legality of the new compact. The deal requires the tribe to partner with a minimum of three parimutuel venues to offer betting. However, it also allows the Seminole to process all mobile bets through its own servers. As such, opponents have argued that it creates a virtual monopoly.

could open the door to new casinos

Another issue lies in a provision within the compact which could open the door to new casinos in the state. The measure prevents the Seminole from intervening if authorities issue a gambling license to any property located more than 15 miles from its Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood.

Multiple cities in Florida have taken action in response to this provision. Doral in Miami-Dade County passed legislation in June banning gambling and casinos unless approved by residents in a referendum. Meanwhile, Miami Beach has hired a law firm to prevent any attempt to introduce new casinos within its own boundaries.

Just months prior to the passing of the Doral gambling ban, Eric Trump, son of former US President Donald Trump, described his father’s Trump National Doral Miami golf resort as “a natural choice” for a gambling license. Similarly, Jeffrey Soffer, the owner of Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach, has made clear his desire to attain a casino license. He spent months lobbying lawmakers to this aim, donating more than $1m in campaign contributions last year.