Federal Government Asks Court to Reinstate Florida Sports Betting Plan

  • The case is being reviewed by judges in the US Court of Appeals
  • The judges are reviewing Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland’s decision
  • The Seminole Tribe had a “hub and spoke” model for sports betting in place 
  • The tribe agreed to pay Florida $2.5bn for full control of the market
Seminole Casino Classic
Federal judges are reviewing the decision to strike down a sports betting compact in Florida, upon request of federal government lawyers. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Florida sports betting to return?

Lawyers for the federal government asked an appeals court to override the decision to nix a Florida sports betting compact with the Seminole Tribe.

Three judges from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit welcomed arguments on Wednesday from a variety of officials and representatives of Florida, the Seminole Tribe, and the US Department of Interior.

within her power to allow the tribes to reach a monopolizing agreement

The court needs to decide if Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, in charge of an agency that monitors tribal gambling, was within her power to allow the tribes to reach a monopolizing agreement with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Judges will focus primarily on the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which deals with gaming on native territory.

Issue with the model

The deal between Florida and the Seminoles lasted for less than one month before it was thrown out by a federal judge. It was deemed controversial because governing law states that all bets must take place on tribal land, yet through the compact, bettors would be allowed to place wagers from the comfort of their own homes.

The Seminoles defended the plan by referring to a “hub and spoke model,” similar to what New Jersey uses. It argued that all bets were processed on tribal land, therefore making the wagers legally tied to Native American ground despite being initiated elsewhere. 

The agreement stipulated that the Seminoles pay the Florida government at least $2.5bn over the first five years of operation. In exchange, they would have full control of statewide sports betting operations and also be able to add craps and roulette to their casino offerings.

a pseudonym for dancing around the real law

Critics, however, took issue with the so-called hub-and-spoke model. They felt that it was a pseudonym for dancing around the real law, approved by voters in 2018, that requires players to place their bets on Native American territory.

Several casino members and businesspeople unaffiliated with local tribes filed lawsuits against Haaland after the deal was approved. They argued that her silence was a vote of approval in the matter, and she was complicit in allowing an inherently illegal compact to form.

Courts hearings

Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the US District Court in Washington, D.C. struck down the deal by siding with plaintiffs in the original 2021 case. She decided that Haaland made a mistake by idly allowing the agreement to pass without intervening.

‘deeming’ their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not”

“Although the compact ‘deem[s]’ all sports betting to occur at the location of the Tribe’s ‘sports book[s]’ and supporting servers … this court cannot accept that fiction,” Friedrich wrote in her decision. “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.”

An appellate court then compounded the tribe’s woes, finding that they failed to show any clear and present danger that would come from terminating its sportsbook operations. 

Despite the multiple failures, attorney Rachel Heron defended Haaland during Wednesday’s hearing.

“[Haaland] does not even list non-compliance with state law as the ground on which the secretary has authority to disapprove a compact,” said Heron while imploring the judge to reinstate the deal. 

Barry Richard, a lawyer for the Seminoles, also said the act “was not supposed to restrict gambling to Indian land but was to restrict the states from regulating gambling on Indian lands.”

An opposing attorney later countered that the federal government was “trying to have it both ways.”