Legal defeats

Florida: Seminoles' request for a stay on sports betting denied by judge, operations continue amid emergency motion

U.S. federal district court judge Dabney L. Friedrich.
United States
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The Seminole Tribe’s request for a stay of a ruling invalidating sports betting in Florida was rejected Wednesday night. The tribal nation’s agreement with the state was thrown out by a federal district court judge in the District of Columbia on Monday, thus halting sports wagering operations and a planned gaming expansion.

Judge Dabney L. Friedrich’s ruling earlier this week concluded the tribe’s compact violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which mandates state-sanctioned gambling to occur on tribal land. The Florida-Seminoles agreement allowed bettors to place wagers through mobile devices anywhere within the state as long as these were processed through computer servers on tribal property: the judge deemed this a “fiction.”

Following the ruling, the tribe quickly filed a notice of appeal and a “motion for stay pending appeal,” while continuing to collect wagers. The tribe argued funds from these operations were being used to pay back development costs for its online sportsbook and make revenue-sharing payments to the state and fund tribal programs.

Seminoles further argued in the motion for a stay that the ruling would cause “irreparable harm” to the tribe’s sovereignty and economic interest should the stay not be issued. Lawyers claimed the tribe would lose “substantial revenue” if sports betting operations were to cease. Friedrich rejected the argument on Wednesday, saying the tribe hadn’t shown this would be the case.

As the Seminole’s bid for a stay has now been denied, the tribe has, for now, no legal right to operate online sports gambling. However, as of Thursday afternoon, the tribe’s Hard Rock Sportsbook app was still accepting bets and operating fully, reports South Florida Sun Sentinel

As their motion for a stay has been denied, the Seminoles now look to an emergency motion for stay pending appeal with the Circuit Court of Appeals to have sports gambling reinstated, which was filed on Thanksgiving. After that, it’d be their appeal, which should be heard sometime in 2022.

However, Wallach warned that Seminoles “didn’t really change their brief at all” in this second motion for a stay, failing to address the points raised in judge Friedrich’s ruling in denying the first one.

The tribe first launched Hard Rock-branded sports betting operations on November 1 as part of its agreement with the state. The compact called for the Seminoles to pay Florida at least $2.5 billion over the first five years in exchange for sole control over sports wagering, plus the option to add roulette and craps to its operations.

Friedrich’s Monday ruling mandated reinstatement of the 2010 compact between the state and the Seminoles, which didn’t allow for sports gambling or craps and roulette. The judge said a new agreement could be reached, as long as it didn’t violate federal law. As a result, Florida could opt on a compact which allows betting solely on Indian lands, or residents could authorize betting across the state through a citizens’ initiative.

According to gaming industry analyst and expert Daniel Wallach, a ruling on the Seminoles’ appeal could be expedited and could come in early December, further reports Sun Sentinel. He also said that if he were in the position of the groups opposing the sports betting deal, he would ask Friedrich to enter a supplemental order imposing an injunction requiring the Seminole Tribe “to shut down online sports betting immediately.”