Seminole Tribe wins major legal battle over online sports betting
The federally-recognized Seminole Tribe scored a major legal victory earlier this week when a federal court ruled in favour of its controversial Class III gaming compact with the State of Florida. The Seminole Tribe approached the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after a lower court’s ruling that found the tribe’s gaming compact with the Sunshine State breached the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
The tribe has monopoly on casino gambling in Florida. It owns & operates half a dozen brick-&-mortar casinos in the state, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.
In April 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed a new 30-year gaming compact with the Seminoles, providing the tribal nation’s gaming entity with exclusive rights to offer online sports betting in the state as part of that deal, the tribe was also allowed to add roulette and craps to its gambling-friendly properties in exchange for a payment of $2.5 billion to the state exchequer over the first five years. The deal, including the revenue-sharing and gaming expansion agreement, was later approved by the state legislature.
The provision allowing the tribal casinos to accept online bets led to a legal battle. The lawsuit against the tribe was filed by the West Flagler Associates, which was the owner of Miami-based Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room. Later, West Flagler Associates sold the Magic City Casino but retained the card club.
Attorneys for West Flagler Associates argued in the lower court that the state’s decision to allow the federally-recognized tribe to accept online sports bets breached the IGRA. The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) was named as the defendant since its Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had approved of the deal.
In November 2021, Federal Judge Dabney Friedrich in DC’s district court sided with the plaintiff, and his ruling invalidated the gaming compact.
The Seminole Tribe appealed the lower court’s decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Overturning Friedrich’s decision, a three-judge panel ruled unanimously in favour of the tribe, declaring that the IGRA doesn’t bars the tribe from accepting sports bets remotely.
However, the legal battle could resume in case West Flagler requests a complete “en banc” hearing by the appellate court, or opt to appeal the most recent ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court.