A federal judge ruled late Monday that Compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida is in violation of federal law, declaring that the ability to place bets from anywhere in the state through a Seminole Tribe betting app violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) that allows betting only on tribal lands.
The ruling, made by Judge Dabney Friedrich, was largely predicated on the location of where bets would be placed. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, on behalf of the Seminole Tribe, emphasized the Compact’s provision that online bets were deemed to take place only in the location where a bet was received by the Tribe’s computer servers located on Seminole lands.
But Friedrich pointed out that previous court rulings held that the human activity required to place a bet had more relevance than the administrative functions of receiving the bet on the jurisdiction of where such betting activity was actually taking place.
“Although the Compact “deems” all sports betting to occur at the location of the Tribe’s “sportsbooks” and supporting servers,” Friedrich ruled, “this Court cannot accept that fiction.”
The compact was formed under a ‘hub-and-spoke’ system that allowed sports bets to be placed from anywhere in the state as long as the bet is processed on servers housed on Seminole land.
Governor Ron DeSantis brought sports betting to Florida earlier this year in an agreement with the Seminoles in a deal signed with tribe Chairman Marcelus Osceola Jr.
In a separate special session held this summer, state lawmakers ratified the Compact and streamlined some portions of state law to accommodate new provisions within the agreement.
While federal regulators approved the Compact, it was met with a litany of legal challenges and opposition, including challenges from No Casinos, a group that successfully passed a constitutional amendment restricting new gaming expansions in the state without voter approval. Other casino operators in the state have also argued that their business would be harmed by what amounted to a statewide expansion of gaming, in direct violation of that constitutional amendment.
The 30-year gaming compact allowed the Seminoles exclusive rights to online sports betting in Florida, as well as expanded gaming privileges, in exchange for at least $2.5 billion over the first five years.
Friedrich opined that the only way sports betting could garner legal footing within the state outside of tribal lands is through citizen initiative.
The state is anticipated to appeal the decision.
Two betting conglomerates — DraftKings and FanDuel — have made efforts to place their own sports betting initiatives on 2022 ballots, forming the group Florida Education Champions (FEC) and pouring millions of dollars into an effort to acquire the necessary 900,000 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot. If successful, FEC’s ballot measure would authorize sports betting throughout the state and set aside hundreds of millions of dollars in gaming revenue in the Florida Education Enhancement Trust Fund.
Christina Johnson, a spokesperson for the group, emphasized that Monday’s federal court ruling had no impact on their own effort. The group says it has well over half a million signatures already collected an in various stages of the state’s validation process.
“Our effort was always mutually exclusive from the compact,” Johnson said. “Florida Education Champions’ focus remains in securing the nearly 900,000 valid petitions to make the November 2022 ballot.”