Sports Betting Arrival in Florida Pending for October

By  //  September 21, 2021

In many places across the United States, sports betting and online wagering is poised to become a hugely popular pastime. During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and into 2021, sports gambling continued to gain traction, seemingly state by state.

Now Florida may be next in line to close a deal that allows its residents to place bets on their favorite teams both in land-based casinos and online.

Bringing Home the Bets 

A new compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe passed the Department of the Interior’s consideration period in early August, potentially bringing new sports betting regulations to the Federal Register and sports gambling to Florida as soon as October 15.

The compact would allow the Seminole Tribe to offer sports gambling at brick-and-mortar locations as well as online, provided the servers are hosted on tribal land.

The arrangement would be exclusive for the Seminole Tribe in exchange for minimum yearly payments over the next 30 years of $500 million from the revenue generated. While major sports betting companies like DraftKings and FanDuel supported the endeavor, there are opponents of the plan who intend to challenge the compact. 

Possible Roadblocks

West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation have filed a federal lawsuit to stop the sports gambling compact signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in May 2021, arguing that the compact oversteps federal laws regarding gambling and online wagers.

The suit asserts that since the Seminole Tribe would be keeping servers on tribal land but taking sports bets from all over the state of Florida that they would be violating both the Wire Act of 1961 and the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act. 

To the Letter of the Law 

Part of the lawsuit argues that under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, bets technically cannot be placed off of tribal lands. A 2018 Florida state constitutional amendment that requires voter approval of all gambling expansions is also cited in the suit, condemning the compact for side-stepping this qualification.

Governor DeSantis and Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary, Julie Brown, are named as the defendants, but the pari-mutuel facilities have also filed a separate lawsuit in Washington, D.C., aimed at the U.S. Department of the Interior and Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland.

A Response from the Tribe

Lawyers representing the Seminole Tribe filed to intervene in the lawsuit, hoping to dismiss the case altogether on the grounds of sovereign immunity.

Documents filed in late August argue that the tribe is an “indispensable party”, essentially asking for the dismissal of the case because of the position the tribe is in–both unable to participate in the lawsuit to support its interests because of sovereignty as a federally designated tribe but clearly a consequential party in the case. With so many invested groups and complex legal implications, resolution may still be a long way off; bad news for Floridians looking forward to placing a wager in a trustworthy US online casino this coming NFL season.

Dealing with Outdated Laws

Still more complicated is the decision made by Bryan Newland, the newly appointed head of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, to neither approve or deny the compact after it was ratified by legislators earlier this year. Once submitted to the Department, there’s a 45-day window of action in which Newland allowed the compact to pass without making a decision, effectively approving it. 

Newland wrote that he had “concerns” about the compact’s future, despite letting the consideration period lapse and allowing a default approval.

The first of its kind in the nation, the compact will test the limits of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which was written before online gaming, sports betting apps, or instant payout casinos were necessary determinants. In letters to DeSantis and Osceola, Newland maintained that “evolving technology should not be an impediment to tribes participating in the gaming industry.”