Though a U.S. District Court judge on Monday night called for the halt of sports betting in Florida, patrons continue to be able to wager on the Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock sports betting platform, and a Florida law professor says that opportunity isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
“I assume that during the appeal her decision will be stayed, which will allow the Seminoles to continue to operate their games,” Bob Jarvis, a professor specializing in gaming law at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law, told Sports Handle by email Tuesday morning.
Wagering is still live in the state, according to one Better Collective employee who lives there and has been able to fund an account and place bets. The Seminole Tribe, whose motion to intervene in the case was denied, on Tuesday filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia for a stay to continue offering wagering pending appeal as well as “expedited consideration” of its appeal.
The Seminoles requested that the issue be resolved Wednesday, so “the Tribe could promptly seek relief in the D.C. Circuit.” In its filing, the tribe argues that it will suffer “irreparable harm” if a stay is not granted while the plaintiffs will not be harmed by a stay, which would “maintain the status quo.”
Judge called compact illegal
Federal Judge Dabney Friedrich on Monday ruled in favor of two parimutuels, West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Meyers Associates, in a case brought against the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The parimutuels argued that a compact agreed upon between the Seminoles and the state is illegal. Friedrich agreed, vacating the entire compact and calling for a halt to legal sports betting, which went live Nov. 1. The compact has been under fire since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminoles negotiated it, lawmakers approved it, and DOI Secretary Deb Haaland allowed it to become “deemed approved” last summer.
At issue is the idea that a sports bet placed anywhere in Florida should be considered to be placed on Indian land if it flows through a server on the Seminole reservation. That setup is not in place anywhere else in the U.S., and the parimutuels argued that it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which governs Class III gaming on tribal lands.
DeSantis and Florida Republicans had a special session to expand gambling instead of addressing healthcare, wages, climate change, education or any other issues Floridians care about. Predictably, their efforts to expand gambling got thrown out in court.https://t.co/GDZxl8mREt
— Thomas Kennedy (@tomaskenn) November 23, 2021
Jarvis, who earlier this month told Sports Handle that the case didn’t have a chance in federal court, stands by his initial assessment.
“There always was the chance that a judge would reject the hub-and-spoke argument and conclude that only sports bets placed on Indian land are permissible under IGRA,” Jarvis said. “I don’t happen to agree with that conclusion – I think it’s a crabbed interpretation of IGRA (Bay Mills notwithstanding); does not take into account what Congress would have done had it foreseen the rise of the internet at the time (1988) that it wrote IGRA; and does not comply with the purpose and spirit of IGRA, which was (and is) to lift tribes out of poverty by allowing them to use gambling as a economic lever.”
What happens now?
While the Seminoles appeal, sports betting continues. Also on Tuesday, according to the Herald-Tribune, DeSantis said the Seminole model is an “unsettled legal issue” and that “we anticipated that this could happen.” DeSantis did not indicate that the state had any immediate plans to address the situation.
Keeping the status quo is certainly in the best interests of both the Seminoles and the state, if not the plaintiffs. For the tribe, the compact allows for an expansion of gaming that includes the addition of craps and roulette to its retail casinos. And for the state, the compact calls for payments of $500 million per year by the Seminoles for the first five years. Neither side would want to walk away from those provisions.
“Judge Friedrich’s opinion is unlikely to have any immediate effect,” Jarvis wrote in an email. “An appeal will be filed as early as today (by vacating the entire compact she just cost the State of Florida $500 million a year, to say nothing to what she just did to the Department of the Interior and other tribes that hoped to use the Seminoles’ compact as a blueprint for their own future negotiations). I assume that during the appeal her decision will be stayed, which will allow the Seminoles to continue to operate their games.
“I fully expect that the D.C. Circuit will overturn Judge Friedrich, and if not the D.C. Circuit then the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Jarvis went on to suggest that Congress could amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to allow for off-reservation sports betting. A bill was filed in Congress this year that would expand the scope of the IGRA, but it has not been assigned to a committee.