A major question mark hangs over the sports betting industry in Florida after a federal judge ruled on Monday that the state’s compact with the Seminole Tribe violates federal law. As a result, all sports betting in the state will likely have to come to a halt.
That has not stopped the Seminole Tribe yet, though. The tribe has continued to keep its sports betting app running. In a statement filed in federal court on Tuesday, Seminole chairman Marcellus W. Oceola said, “The tribe’s online sports betting authorized by the compact is now in operation, and is generating millions in revenue per week.”
One federal judge had already thrown out one of three lawsuits challenging the compact in October. In that one, US District Court Judge Allen Winsor said that the West Flagler Associates lacked standing in its suit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
The lawsuit in focus this week was similar, but was filed against US Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. This time, Judge Dabney Friedrich agreed with West Flagler Associates that the Seminoles’ compact with the state of Florida violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
In May, the Florida state legislature approved the compact after DeSantis signed it, but the DOI still had to give its thumbs-up. The department had 45 days to make a decision, but in the end, took no action, which meant approval by default. The Seminole Tribe launched its Hard Rock Sportsbook at the beginning of this month.
The issue at the center of the legal battle is where sports betting is taking place. According to IGRA, any gambling authorized by state compacts must take place on tribal lands. The Seminole Tribe accepts bets from anyone of legal age anywhere in the state, as one might expect with internet gambling (though there are some tribal apps in other states that can only be used when on tribal property or in a tribal casino). And there is the problem. If someone is placing a bet on the app in most locations around Florida, they are not situated on tribal land.
The tribe argues that the bets are technically made on the server and since the servers are on tribal land, it doesn’t matter where the customer is located. Judge Friedrich didn’t buy it, though. Calling the argument “fiction,” she said, “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.”
As mentioned, the Hard Rock Sportsbook app is still running. In the meantime, it would not be surprising at all if the Department of the Interior files an appeal and/or as for a stay on the opinion.