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Seminole sports betting on hold

Patrons watching various sporting events at the casino bar. [Photo by Amit Lahav]

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 12 temporarily halted an appeals court ruling that would allow the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer sports betting statewide.

Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stay after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this summer upheld a gambling deal between the state and the tribe that included sports betting.

Roberts’ order came after pari-mutuel companies West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers sought a stay as they prepare to ask the Supreme Court to take up their challenge to the appellate ruling.

The order did not detail Roberts’ reasons for the decision.

The pari-mutuel companies filed the lawsuit in 2021 after Florida lawmakers ratified the gambling deal, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr.

While the deal, known as a compact, addresses a series of issues, the lawsuit centers on a plan that would allow gamblers to place mobile sports wagers anywhere in the state, with bets handled by computer servers on tribal property. The deal says bets “using a mobile app or other electronic device shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.”

The pari-mutuels argue, in part, that the plan was devised to get around a 2018 state constitutional amendment that required voter approval of casino gambling in Florida.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees gambling on tribal lands, allowed the compact to move forward. But the lawsuit contends the compact violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA, because it authorizes gambling off tribal lands.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich in November 2021 ruled against the compact, calling the sports betting plan a “fiction” and invalidating other parts of the agreement. A panel of the appeals court June 30 reversed Friedrich’s ruling, and the full appeals court in September refused to reconsider the challenge.

The appeals court panel said a compact “can legally authorize a tribe to conduct gaming only on its own lands. But at the same time, IGRA does not prohibit a gaming compact — which is, at bottom, an agreement between a tribe and a state — from discussing other topics, including those governing activities ‘outside Indian lands.’”

Attorneys for the pari-mutuel companies filed the request for a stay at the Supreme Court on Oct. 6. They also said they planned to file a petition within 45 days asking justices to consider the underlying issues in the case.

In part, the request for a stay argues that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not authorize the interior secretary to approve a compact that allows gambling off tribal lands. Also, the attorneys pointed to potentially far-reaching implications of the appellate ruling.

“The circuit opinion raises a question of nationwide importance regarding the ability of states and tribes to use IGRA compacts to provide for gaming off Indian lands,” the request reads, adding that it is “in the public interest to preserve the status quo.”

The Seminoles in 2021 briefly rolled out the Hard Rock SportsBook mobile app amid the legal wrangling but stopped accepting wagers and deposits after Friedrich’s ruling.

West Flagler holds three jai alai licenses, while Bonita-Fort Myers does business as Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida.

Meanwhile, the pari-mutuel companies last month filed a separate case at the Florida Supreme Court, alleging that the compact runs afoul of the 2018 constitutional amendment. That case is pending.


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