Judge blocks Florida sports betting deal with Seminole Tribe, calls state’s justification ‘fantasy’

Judge blocks Florida sports betting deal with Seminole Tribe, calls state’s justification ‘fantasy’


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Called a “fantasy” by a Washington, D.C. judge late Monday, the deal giving the Seminole tribe control of online sports betting in Florida violates federal law regulating gambling in tribal lands.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s ruling invalidated a sports betting scheme in one of the country’s most sought-after markets and nullified a deal negotiated by Governor Ron DeSantis.

Sports betting is included in an agreement, known as the charter, signed by Florida Governor and Seminole chief Marcellus Osceola Jr. this spring and approved by the legislature during a special session in May. The US Department of the Interior, which oversees Indian gambling cases, signed the deal in August.

But in Monday’s 25-page ruling, Friedrich ruled that the deal violated the federal Indian Gambling Regulation Act, or IGRA, which establishes a framework for gambling activity on tribal lands. The ruling focused on gamblers’ ability to bet on sports online from across the state, with bets running via computer servers on tribal properties.

“Altogether, there are more than a dozen clauses in the IGRA regulating games on ‘Indian soil’, and none of them regulating play elsewhere,” she wrote. “It is also clear that the Minister (of the Ministry of the Interior) must reject charters that violate the terms of the IGRA.”

Although the charter considers sports betting to take place on the servers of the tribe, “this court cannot accept this fantasy,” Friedrich wrote.

“When a federal law authorizes activity in specific locations only, parties may not evade this restriction by ‘viewing’ their activity taking place where it does not, as a matter of fact,” she added.

Under the 30-year deal, the Seminoles agreed to pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years in exchange for controlling sports betting and allowing them to add craps and roulette to the tribe’s casino operations.

The Pivot and Talk sports betting scheme is designed to allow gamblers anywhere in Florida – with the exception of other tribal lands – to place bets using mobile apps or other devices, with combined bets being “exclusively managed by the tribe.”

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The owners of the Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and the Bonita Springs Poker Room in southwest Florida — which have been owned by the Havenick family for decades — have filed a lawsuit against US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and her agency alleging that the sports-betting scheme violates federal laws and will cause in a “significant and potentially devastating” impact on their businesses.

Friedrich’s ruling, which came weeks after Tribe quietly launched its mobile sports betting app, adds uncertainty to Seminoles’ future sports betting activities. The tribe’s own Hard Rock app was still accepting bets on Tuesday morning, and a spokesperson wouldn’t say if Seminole plans to shut it down.

“The Seminole Tribe is reviewing the judge’s opinion and carefully considering its next steps,” Tribe spokesman Gary Bettner said in an email.

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The judge’s ruling also rejected Seminole’s petitions to intervene in the lawsuit and dismissed the case. On Tuesday, the Seminoles filed notice that the tribe intends to appeal its decisions in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

But Magic City described Friedrich’s ruling as “a victory for family-owned businesses like ours that pay their share of taxes and believe that the free market should guide business operations at gaming venues”.

“We look forward to working with the governor, legislature and stakeholders to pave a path forward that ensures a fair gaming market in Florida,” the equal playing company said in a prepared statement.

In a court document filed this month, Haaland’s lawyers acknowledged that the sports betting scheme would allow bets on tribal land, but said the state allowed the bets, describing it as an “permissible hybrid approach” consistent with state and federal laws. Law.

But Friedrich, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, found the government’s reliance on Florida law to defend the deal “missing the mark” because the agreement authorizes play outside Indian territory.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday in Broward County, DeSantis said he negotiated the agreement with the tribe because he felt the state didn’t get enough money under an earlier deal with Seminoles, whose casino Tampa is one of the most lucrative in the country. The governor, a lawyer, admitted that the pivot and speak plan was an “unresolved legal issue.”

“They wanted to play the sport (betting), so we said ‘okay.’ And the reason I said that was that the referendum would probably get passed anyway. Then if a company got it, the tribe got it anyway. So, we felt That makes sense,” he said.

The governor said the state, which is not a party to the lawsuit, would support the federal government’s appeal.

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DeSantis noted that the agreement was structured to allow the state to continue making revenue from gambling activities in Seminoles if the sports betting requirement is removed.

But Friedrich’s order invalidated the entire agreement, saying that the “practical effect of this treatment” restores a 2010 agreement with the Seminoles that expires in 2030. This deal gave the tribe the ability to offer bank card games, such as blackjack and baccarat, at most of their casinos. The tribe stopped making payments to the state in 2019 after a long-running dispute over Pari-mutuels’ “designated player” card games across Florida.

Friedrich also found that the new agreement violates a 2018 Florida constitutional amendment that requires statewide approval for gambling expansions, including sports betting.

But the judge noted that her decision “does not preclude other avenues for licensing online sports betting in Florida.”

For example, she wrote, the state could negotiate a new agreement with the tribe that “allows online games to be played in Indian territory only.”

Friedrich also suggested that Florida citizens could agree to a citizens’ initiative to allow online sports betting, an effort already underway that could get a boost from its ruling.

The two online sports betting companies DraftKings, Inc. And FanDuel more than $32.7 million in a political committee backing a proposed constitutional amendment for Florida that would legalize sports betting in professional sports stadiums, equal facilities, and statewide via mobile apps.

As of Tuesday, the state’s Department of Elections has received 116,437 signatures on a valid petition from the Florida Commission of Education Champions that sponsors the initiative. The committee will need to provide 891,589 signatures for the November 2022 ballot.

In a prepared statement, the commission’s spokeswoman, Christina Johnson, said the commission was “confident” that it could meet the deadline.

“Our effort has always been mutually exclusive from the agreement. The focus of Florida Education Champions remains in securing nearly 900,000 valid petitions for the November 2022 ballot,” she said.


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