In a recent development, a federal appeals court denied a request for a rehearing from pari-mutuel owners who challenged the multibillion-dollar deal between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state of Florida. The deal granted the tribe control over sports betting throughout the state. The request for a rehearing was made after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the deal in June, reversing a previous decision by a federal judge. The court rejected the request without providing a detailed explanation.
The gambling deal was signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola in 2021. It included a provision that allowed the tribe to control sports betting in the state for a period of 30 years. The deal was ratified by the Legislature but was challenged in court by owners of pari-mutuel establishments, Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room. They claimed that the sports-betting plan violated federal law and would have a negative impact on their operations.
A key aspect of the deal was the inclusion of a “hub-and-spoke” sports-betting plan, which allowed gamblers throughout the state to place bets online. The bets would be processed through computer servers located on tribal property. The compact stated that bets made using a mobile app or electronic device would be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.
However, in November 2021, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the plan violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, as it allowed gambling off tribal lands. Friedrich also invalidated other parts of the compact. The Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling, appealed the decision.
The June ruling by the three-judge panel overturned Friedrich’s decision, stating that she had erred in her interpretation of the federal law. The impact of this ruling on sports betting in Florida remains uncertain.
The Seminole Tribe briefly released a mobile app for sports betting but stopped accepting wagers following Friedrich’s ruling. The tribe has not commented on whether they will resume accepting bets on the app. It is also unclear whether the pari-mutuel owners will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Under the compact, the Seminole Tribe was granted control over online sports betting and the ability to offer craps and roulette at their casinos. The deal also allowed the tribe to add three casinos on tribal property in Broward County. In exchange, the tribe agreed to pay a minimum of $2.5 billion to the state over the first five years of the agreement, with the potential for billions more over the course of the 30-year pact.
Legal expert Daniel Wallach believes that the Supreme Court should review the case, as the ruling conflicts with decisions made by other federal appellate courts. He argues that the issue of whether the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act applies to off-reservation tribal gaming activities needs to be settled. Wallach suggests that a Supreme Court review would bring much-needed clarity to the issue and resolve conflicting rulings from lower courts.
Critics of the compact have also raised concerns about its compliance with a 2018 constitutional amendment. The amendment, known as Amendment 3, requires gambling expansions in Florida to be approved by voters through the citizens’ initiative process. Some believe that the sports-betting arrangement should have gone through this process.