Sports betting compact between Florida, Seminole Tribe thrown out by federal judge

Late Monday night, a federal judge ruled the online sports-betting deal between Florida and the Seminole Tribe violates federal law – specifically the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. 

The move has broad implications because the judge ended up ruling that the entire compact was in violation of federal gambling rules, meaning, not only is the Seminole Hard Rock's sportsbook app illegal, but it also means that the Seminole Tribe can’t build any new casinos or expand their games to create Vegas-style casinos with craps and roulette.

Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring opened the door to sports betting in Florida --- viewed as one of the nation’s most-fertile grounds for digital wagering --- through a deal signed with tribe Chairman Marcelus Osceola Jr. The Legislature signed off on the agreement, known as a compact, in a May special session, but then the deal was challenged.

The judge's decision stems from a lawsuit filed by casino owners in South Florida that argued federal law doesn't allow bets that occur off tribal lands. The tribe's mobile betting app allowed people to place bets from anywhere in the state. 

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The ruling though came down to where bets were being placed. Per federal law, gambling can only take place on Indian land. The Seminole Tribe tried to argue that the servers taking the bets for their app are located on their lands, but that argument has been tried in three other federal cases and has been ruled against each time.

Tuesday, the Seminole Indian Tribe appealed the judge's ruling and filed a motion to stay, pending appeal. That means the tribe is asking the judge to hear their appeal before she allows Monday's ruling to go into effect. 

In court documents, attorneys for the tribe asked the judge to act on their motion to stay no later than Wednesday. 

Their motion to stay may explain why, as of Tuesday night, betters who spoke with FOX 13 were still able to successfully place bets through the Hard Rock Sportsbook App despite the judge's move Monday ruling the compact is illegal.

Attorney Daniel Wallach, who specializes in gaming and sports-betting regulations, explained the federal judge in this case called the server location argument a legal fiction.

"You look to the location of the gambler, of the sportsbook, of the better, and, obviously, a person placing a bet in Jacksonville or Key West is not on Indian land," he explained to FOX 13, hours after the federal ruling. "They’re beyond the jurisdiction of Indian territory and for that reason, the compact exceeded its legal boundaries."

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Wallach said the Department of Interior will likely appeal the decision, but it’s unlikely they’ll be successful in their appeal due to precedent. Essentially, he said this avenue for online sports betting is dead in the water and it’s unlikely there will be any type of online or mobile sports betting in Florida in 2021.

In order to get there, the clearest legal pathway would be for voters to approve online and mobile sportsbooks. If Floridians do, it’s highly likely to end up with a more competitive field, allowing outsiders in instead of an exclusive agreement and, essentially, a monopoly by the Seminole Tribe. 

Otherwise, the state and Seminole Tribe can also negotiate a new compact – one that allows sports betting solely on Native American land.