White House Argues in Favor of Florida Sports Betting Agreement

  • A judge struck down the original compact between the Seminole Tribe and Florida
  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis supports gambling expansion
  • The compact is based on a hub-and-spoke model
  • The dissenting judge ruled that the agreement misguidedly allowed betting outside of tribal land
  • Lawyers arguing against the judge say that she misinterpreted the situation
Hard Rock Stadium in Miami
The Biden administration is publicly supporting a Florida sports betting compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe that was recently struck down. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Florida sports betting

The Biden administration is advocating for an appeals court to reinstate a compact that gave the Seminole Tribe control of Florida sports betting.

The push from the White House comes nine months after a Washington judge ruled that the agreement violated Constitutional law. A brief filed with the US Department of the Interior Wednesday defended the president’s stance.

third-most populous state and is projected to have a significant betting market

Florida is the United States’ third-most populous state and is projected to have a significant betting market. Governor Ron DeSantis has been on board with legalization and now has substantial backing from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Why the compact stalled

Florida’s sports betting market lasted less than one month near the end of 2021. After Governor DeSantis signed the 30-year deal with the Seminoles, it was challenged by different gambling room owners, who were reaffirmed by the court.

The compact involved a “hub-and-spoke” model like that of New Jersey, intended to funnel online bets to servers on native land. The agreement stated that any bet placed “using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.”

In addition to handling sports betting, the Seminoles could also host craps and roulette games at their casinos. Furthermore, they could add three casinos to their property in Broward County. In exchange, they would pay the state $2.5bn in the first five years and potentially more after the fact.

However, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the arrangement violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because it allowed gambling outside of tribal property, even if it was later processed there. She also struck out other details in the compact which she said were erroneously let through by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. 

Haaland’s lawyers argued in Wednesday’s brief that Freidrich was incorrect in her judgment since gambling was still only legal on tribal land. 

no duty — nor even any authority — to disapprove a compact that validly authorizes gaming”

“The secretary has no duty — nor even any authority — to disapprove a compact that validly authorizes gaming on Indian lands simply because the compact also contemplates that the state will enact legislation permitting persons outside Indian lands to participate in that gaming,” said the US Department of Justice lawyer representing Haaland.

The argument that Haaland’s team put forth in a briefing last year that supported a hybrid approach was also shifted. Instead, they now attacked the idea that Haaland had only focused on activities on tribal land.

“The legality of any non-Indian land activities discussed in a compact is instead a matter of state law: If the courts ultimately decide that those activities are not authorized by state law, then those activities will not be permitted, regardless of what the compact contemplates,” noted the brief.

Arguments

Attorney Daniel Wallach, who specializes in gambling issues, told The News Service of Florida on Thursday that the government’s arguments “falsely characterize” the case. 

“They’re making factual assertions about the compact that are belied by the plain language of the compact. It’s crystal clear that the compact authorizes online sports betting, and that activity is what constitutes a violation of IGRA,” he said.

In a separate brief submitted on Wednesday, tribal attorneys argued that Freidrich erred by not permitting the tribe to object to the challenge. Tribes have a right to sovereign immunity which protects them from lawsuits.

The lawyers also maintained the tribe’s interest in preserving the original agreement.

critical to the resolution of continuing discord between the tribe and pari-mutuel facilities”

“[The tribe] has a broad and particular interest in maintaining the 2021 compact, which is critical to the resolution of continuing discord between the tribe and pari-mutuel facilities, and to healing the long-standing rift between the tribe and the state,” wrote the Seminoles’ attorneys.

Supporters maintain the agreement complies with the stipulations outlined in 2018, specifically by requiring a statewide vote. 

The Seminoles launched a mobile betting app but shut it down after Friedrich’s decision. Florida took in $187.5m from October 2021 to February 2022 as part of the deal, but the tribe has since ceased payments.

Florida cannot put another sports betting measure on the ballot until 2024.