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Sports gambling triumph for the tribe

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

The Seminole Tribe of Florida scored a legal win Sept. 11 when a federal appeals court turned down a request for a rehearing in a case that gave the tribe control over sports betting throughout the state.

Pari-mutuels Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida had challenged the multibillion-dollar sports-betting plan, asking for an “en banc,” or full court, hearing. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the request without a detailed explanation.

A three-judge panel of the court in June reversed a November 2021 decision by a federal judge who halted the agreement. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the plan ran afoul of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which regulates gambling on tribal lands, because the deal would allow gambling off property owned by the Seminoles.

The 30-year gambling deal, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola in 2021, included a hub-and-spoke sports-betting plan to allow gamblers anywhere in the state to bet online.

The three-judge panel of the appeals court, however, ruled unanimously that the district judge in Washington erred when she found that the compact violates the federal law because it authorizes gambling “both on and off” Indian lands.

The new ruling’s impact on sports betting in Florida was not immediately clear. Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminoles, said the tribe was “pleased” with the appeals court’s decision not to grant the en banc hearing. But the Seminoles did not comment on whether they plan to start accepting bets again on a mobile app that was put on hold amid the legal wrangling.

The pari-mutuels “are weighing all options, including a possible petition seeking the Supreme Court’s review,” Hamish Hume, a lawyer with the Boies Schiller Flexner firm who represents them, said in a statement.

Daniel Wallach, a lawyer who specializes in gambling law, told The News Service of Florida that the ruling in the Florida case “is in conflict with at least eight federal appeals court decisions from other circuits declaring that” the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act “has no application to off-reservation tribal gaming activities.”

Wallach added that the U.S. Supreme Court eventually will need to resolve the issue.


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