Federal Judge Vacates Compact Between Florida, Seminole Tribe

Judge rules newly-amended compact violates Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, denies motion by tribe to stay ruling during appeals.
Federal Judge Vacates Compact Between Florida, Seminole Tribe
November 25, 2021

A federal district court judge vacated a newly-amended compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe, on the grounds that it allowed for an illegal expansion of online sports betting beyond tribal lands.

The ruling effectively ends three weeks of online sports betting that had been conducted through the Hard Rock Sportsbook, which was launched by the tribe and Hard Rock Hotels and Casinos on November 1.

In a 25-page opinion issued Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the amended compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) by attempting “to authorize sports betting both on and off Indian lands.

“In its own words, the compact authorizes such betting by patrons who are ‘physically located in the State [of Florida] but not on [the Tribe’s] Indian Lands,’” Friedrich wrote in her ruling.

Friedrich went on to dismiss claims that all sports bets taken by the tribe’s servers should be considered as bets made on tribal lands. “This Court cannot accept that fiction,” she wrote.

Court records show that the Seminole Tribe filed an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Friedrich denied a motion from the tribe to stay her ruling pending the appeal.

Judge: Interior should have stopped compact

The crux of the issue centers on the amended compact between the tribe and the state.

Last April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the tribe agreed to an amended 30-year compact, under which the tribe would serve as the center of a “hub-and-spoke” system for online sports betting. In exchange, the tribe would pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the next five years.

The arrangement included verbiage that allowed customers to place bets from anywhere in the state, but not on other tribal lands. It also stipulated bets made using apps on mobile or other devices would be “‘deemed to take place…on Indian Lands’ at the ‘location of the servers or other devices used to conduct such wagering activity,’” according to court records.

DeSantis signed the agreement in April, but it had to pass the muster of the US Department of Interior before taking effect. Court records show Interior Secretary Deb Haaland received a copy of the compact on June 21. The compact was approved by default on August 5, after Haaland took no action within 45 days of receiving the compact.

In her ruling, Friedrich faulted Haaland for reasoning that the IGRA allows the Seminoles to offer online sports betting to customers who are not physically located on tribal lands. The judge also cited the secretary on the argument that the receipt of online sports bets that are placed elsewhere constitute activity that was made on tribal lands.

The ruling means that the previous compact between the state and the tribe, which was agreed to in 2010, will once again take effect and remain so until 2030.

Plaintiffs: Compact hurt land-based casinos

West Flagler Associates and the Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation filed suit in US District Court on August 16, five days after the Interior Department published the amended compact in the Federal Register.

The plaintiffs argued that the amended compact would hurt their brick-and-mortar casinos. West Flagler owns the Magic City Casino & Flagler Dog Track in Miami, while Bonita-Myers owns the Bonita Springs Poker Room, located in Bonita Springs.

Friedrich said her decision to vacate the amended compact “does not foreclose other avenues for authorizing online sports betting in Florida.” She said the state and the tribe could agree to a new compact, with Interior’s approval, that allows online gaming only on tribal lands. Another option would be for Florida voters to expressly authorize expanding betting.

“What the Secretary [of Interior] may not do, however, is approve future compacts that authorize conduct outside IGRA’s scope,” Friedrich wrote, adding that the US Supreme Court had ruled that IGRA “authorizes gaming ‘on Indian lands, and nowhere else.’”

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling (VACPG) helpline at 1-888-532-3500

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