To be filed Saturday by DOI

US federal government to appeal ruling against Florida-Seminoles sports betting compact

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
Reading time 2:23 min

The US federal government is set to appeal a federal court decision that struck down a Florida gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. A federal district court judge in the District of Columbia ruled in November that the deal, which gave the tribal nation a monopoly on sports betting, violated federal Indian gaming law.

According to Florida Politics, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has notified a federal court that she and the Department of Interior intend to appeal the decision. A notice to appeal the decision was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday, while the actual appeal is set to be filed by Saturday.

The notice itself does not reveal what arguments Haaland and the Department of Interior intend to leverage. Haaland and the federal government had not previously announced plans of appealing, remaining quiet since the court decision. The Seminole Tribe of Florida already has filed its own appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit.

A ruling by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich in November threw out the compact and invalidated it, thus halting sports betting and a planned gaming expansion in Florida indefinitely. Sports wagering was launched by the Seminole Tribe and the Hard Rock Sportsbook brand on November 1, and the tribe also planned to transform its Broward and Hillsborough casinos to Vegas-style venues.

The 30-year gaming compact was signed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis and counted with approval from the Florida Legislature and Haaland. The agreement called for the Seminoles to pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years in exchange for sole control over sports wagering in the state, plus the option to add roulette and craps to its operations.

The deal soon became the target of protest and controversy: the owners of Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, and a group of plaintiffs including the group No Casinos, filed separate lawsuits against Haaland, alleging the compact was improperly approved, in an effort to block the gaming expansion.

November’s ruling validated these claims: according to the federal district court judge, the compact violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which mandates state-sanctioned gambling to occur on tribal land.

Under the Florida-Seminoles agreement, bettors were allowed to place wagers through mobile devices anywhere within the state, as long as these were processed through computer servers on tribal property. The question was whether this constitutes betting on tribal land, which according to Friedrich, it didn’t.

Judge Dabney L. Friedrich

In her ruling, the federal judge described Florida’s model of sports betting through servers on tribal property as “a fiction,” which could not be accepted by court. “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,” Friedrich stated.

In their new arguments, the federal government would have to prove to the Appeals Court that the compact is indeed authorized by the IGRA, and that bets can be placed outside tribal lands without this implying a violation of federal law.

Sports betting giants FanDuel and DraftKings have launched a petition to get sports wagering approved by voters next year, on a November 2022 ballot initiative. The initiative must collect 891,589 valid signatures by a February 1 deadline. As of Friday, the state Division of Elections had received 403,252 petition signatures for the initiative.

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