Just weeks after launching its mobile sports betting app, the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida were dealt a major blow Monday night when a federal judge struck down the state’s new Seminole gaming compact.
“Because the Compact allows patrons to wager throughout Florida, including at locations that are not Indian lands, the Compact violates IGRA’s ‘Indian lands’ requirement,” wrote Judge Dabney L. Friedrich in a ruling late Monday night.
At issue was Florida’s plan for online gaming where people would be able to wager anywhere in the state as long as the computer servers processing those wagers were on Seminole Indian land. Federal law and prior court decisions have held that this model is not allowed, something lawmakers were aware of when they were called back to a special session over the summer to ratify the compact that had been negotiated with the tribe by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“This was a no-brainer,” said gambling law expert Daniel Wallach. “The reason why the Seminole Tribe and state of Florida went forward this way in the face of the statutory language remains a mystery. They thought they could ram this through the legislature and maybe get a friendly ruling from the Department of the Interior, but where the rubber meets the road is a independent, lifetime-appointed federal district court judge who is not going to play politics here.”
The ruling from the judge not only invalidates online sports betting in Florida, but also invalidates the rest of the compact. This means no in-person sports wagering and no expansion of existing casinos in South Florida and the Tampa area.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Seminole Tribe of Florida filed a notice of appeal on the judge’s ruling.
While sports betting is on hold for now in Florida, the judge did outline a few possible paths forward for the state. One option is for voters, through a citizen initiative, to amend the state constitution to authorize sports betting, something that is in the works currently with the backing of DraftKings and FanDuel. Another option would be for DeSantis to negotiate a new compact that only authorizes in-person and online sports betting for gamblers on tribal land.
“Gov. DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe can negotiate a brand new compact that has all of the same things except for the statewide online sports betting,” Wallach said.
At a Tuesday morning press conference in Fort Lauderdale, the governor, when asked about the court ruling, said that he had not seen it but that the state would continue to pursue a new compact. The governor also blamed the Department of Justice for not arguing a better case in favor of the compact.
“It’s convenient to blame the DOJ for not a more full-throated advocacy,” Wallach said. “It wouldn’t have mattered how they argued it, the judge was going to rule the way she ruled. There were no ifs, ands or buts about that this was preordained.”