For those who were expecting a quick decision on the legality of the gaming compact between the Seminole Indians and the Florida gubernatorial leadership, you might be waiting much longer. A decision in the U. S. Court of Appeals has set back even further any consideration for the case. At this time, there is no word on when a decision would be rendered in the case, continuing the state of confusion that exists in Florida’s gaming system.
Simple Hearing to Set Schedule Set for March
The case, at the minimum, has been consolidated so that there is only one case to consider. The U. S. Court of Appeals has ordered all attorneys involved with the case to present how they want to proceed with the case. This process will be heard on March 22, but no actual hearings on the case will be made.
At issue are appeals from two parties, the Seminole Tribe and the U. S. Department of the Interior. In the Seminoles case, they are looking to overturn the November 2021 ruling from Judge Dabney Friedman that the compact. That compact, signed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe chairman Marcellus Osceola, would be in place for 30 years and would, among other things, set that the Seminoles would pay the Florida government $500 million per year (minimum) for their gaming rights (more on this in a moment).
The Interior Department, the federal organization in charge of overseeing Indian gaming in the U. S., filed their appeal because their oversight is being questioned. After the gaming compact was signed in 2021, the Interior Department had 90 days to either approve or deny the deal. Instead of making a distinct decision on the case, the Interior Department allowed the 90 days to pass without ruling in either direction on the compact, allowing it to be approved without review.
Original Case Dates Back to 2015
The original compact between the Seminoles and Florida’s leadership expired in 2015 and, despite the desires of both the Seminoles and then-governor Rick Scott, no compact was agreed to. The Seminoles continued to pay approximately $250 million per year to continue to have their near monopoly on casino gaming in the Sunshine State, but the encroachment by poker rooms and simulcast outlets in the state into gray areas concerned the Seminoles to the point they threatened to stop their yearly payments.
After DeSantis’ election in 2018, a drive to get a compact deal done kicked into high gear. Those efforts in April 2021 saw DeSantis and Osceola sign a 30-year deal that would give the state a $500 million windfall per year. The Florida General Assembly rubberstamped the compact and it was to go into effect in the summer of 2021.
But there were other things in that compact deal that the horse tracks and the poker rooms did not like. The compact gave the Seminoles the exclusive rights to operating sports betting, both live and mobile, in the state of Florida. The expansion of gaming also allowed for sports bets to be placed anywhere in the state, not exclusively on Seminole property.
Two companies decided to take a stand against this, West Flagler Associates (who operate the Magic City Casino) and the Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation (responsible for operations at the Bonita Springs Poker Room). In their arguments, the two entities stated that the new compact was a monopoly to prevent the horse tracks and poker rooms from being able to offer sports betting. Additionally these two groups cited the passage of Amendment 4, passed in 2018 and added to the Florida Constitution, which stated that any expansion of gaming had to be approved by the voters of Florida before it could be enacted. Attorneys for both groups agreed that the new sports betting regulations were an expansion of gaming in the state.
Judge Friedrich found in favor of West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation in November of 2021. He cited the 2018 amendment and the inaction by the federal government in making a firm decision on the legality of the compact as the reasons behind his decision. This shut down the nascent sportsbook operations of the Seminole Tribe, which had been tentatively operating under the compact’s agreement. The resulting shutdown stopped millions in bets from being wagered and has brought the appeals from the Seminoles and the federal government.
With just the schedule being laid out for discussion on the scheduling, it could be some time before anything is resolved as to the future of Florida’s gaming system.