Federal Judge Throws Out Florida Compact, Halting Sports Betting

  • The Seminole Tribe must stop operating the sportsbooks it launched on November 1
  • Judge Friedrich stated that the compact is in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
  • The state and tribe are expected to appeal the ruling
  • The tribe got a monopoly over sports betting in Florida through the compact
  • It does not appear that the sports betting will even be allowable just within tribal land
Seminole Hard Rock casino in Florida
A federal judge has halted sports betting in Florida after deeming the gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe to be illegal. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Update, November 24, 2021: The Seminole Tribe has continued to offer sports betting through its app in Florida despite the judge’s ruling, while also appealing the decision. In a statement filed with the court on Tuesday, chairman of the Seminole Marcellus W. Osceola said: “The tribe’s online sports betting authorized by the compact is now in operation, and is generating millions in revenue per week.” He added that the tribe needed the proceeds to pay back development costs, make revenue-share payments, and fund tribal programs.

A huge ruling

A federal judge has ruled that the gaming compact in Florida is in violation of federal Indian gaming law, meaning that the whole agreement is invalid. This decision that was made in the District of Columbia late on Monday means that all forms of gaming expansion and sports betting in Florida have to stop indefinitely.

As a result of this ruling from Judge Dabney Friedrich, the Seminole Tribe will have to stop accepting bets through the online sportsbook it launched on November 1. The tribe will also not be able to expand its Hard Rock casinos in Hillsborough and Broward counties to have Las Vegas-style gaming floors.

came to the conclusion that the agreement is in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act

Specifically, Judge Friedrich came to the conclusion that the agreement is in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that says all state-sanctioned gambling needs to take place on tribal land.

No luck for the state and tribe

Florida officials tried to bypass the jurisdiction rules by stating that all sports bets would be processed through a server that was on tribal property. Friedrich labeled this claim as being “fiction” and stated: “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.”

Voter approval is required for statewide gambling expansion in Florida. The state government can negotiate a compact with tribes, however, that allow for gambling expansion on tribal land.

The judge has ordered the state to reinstate the previous gaming compact that went into effect in 2010. She suggested that the tribe and the governor might be able to create a new compact that would allow for online gambling just on tribal lands. She also stated that the state’s residents could legalize sports betting with a citizen’s initiative.

The tribe and the state look set to lodge an appeal, as well as request an immediate stay of the order, though it does not look likely that the appeal will be successful.

A significant compact

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the 30-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe into law in May. The agreement then received approval from the Florida legislature and the US Department of the Interior. As part of the deal, the Seminole Tribe committed to paying at least $2.5bn to the state over the initial five years of the compact. In return, the tribe was granted a monopoly over the launch of legal sports betting, as well as getting the green light to start offering craps and roulette at its casinos.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed since the compact was signed, many of which alleged that the gaming compact should not have gotten federal approval.

There have also been attempts to try to get a measure on the November 2022 ballot that would amend the state constitution and legalize sports betting across the state if voters were in favor of doing so. Major sports operators like DraftKings and FanDuel already have a petition making the rounds to try to get this measure on the ballot.

An unclear future

There are numerous states in which tribes are able to operate sports betting just on tribal land, including Michigan, Arizona, and Connecticut. While the Seminole Tribe believed that it would get around the jurisdictional limitations, it ultimately does not appear to have been successful with this approach. The tribe also will not seemingly be able to offer sports betting just on tribal land as things stand.

it is unclear what will happen to the bets that people have already placed

The Seminole Tribe launched its online sportsbook suddenly on November 1 with little to no prior warning. It is unclear what will happen to the bets that people have already placed through the tribe’s online sportsbook.