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Federal judge deals blow to legal sports gambling in Florida

Seminole Hard Rock Casino Hollywood Florida
Posted at 8:05 AM, Nov 23, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — On Monday, a federal judge threw out the game compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe, ruling that the agreement violates the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA) by allowing people to bet when they're not physically on Indian Lands.

The compact, by allowing people to use an electronic device to place a bet when they're within the state but not on Indian Lands "grants the Tribe a monopoly over both all online betting and all wagers on major sporting events," the opinion by Judge Dabney Friedrich said.

Friedrich said in her opinion said the remedy to the decision is to reinstate the Tribe's previous compact, which took effect in 2010.

"In that respect, this decision restores the legal status of class III gaming in Florida to where it was on August 4, 2021 — one day before the Secretary approved the new compact by inaction. Because the more recent Compact is no longer in effect, continuing to offer online sportsbetting would violate federal law," Friedrich wrote. "This decision does not foreclose other avenues for authorizing online sports betting in Florida. The State and the Tribe may agree to a new compact, with the Secretary's approval, that allows online gaming solely on Indian lands."

"The Seminole Tribe is reviewing the Judge’s opinion and carefully considering its next steps," a spokesperson for the tribe said in a statement Tuesday.

Attorney and gambling and sports expert Daniel Wallach said he's not surprised to see the recent ruling.

"Her ruling was a blow to the compact. Struck the whole compact down because the legislature and the governor went too far in authorizing internet sports betting through a tribal compact," Wallach said.

Wallach said the federal judge's ruling isn't necessarily an "end all be all" to online sports betting in Florida.

"The federal government can file a notice of appeal and take the issue to the D.C. circuit court of appeals, and I would expect that the first step that the federal government would take would be to ask for an immediate stay of the trial courts ruling pending the outcome of the appeal," Wallach said.

According to Wallach, another option to get online sports betting back on the table is to get it on the November 2022 ballot as an amendment. He said such a move could be risky because the result is not a guarantee and needs 60% voter approval.

"The legislature can meet again in session January and February and pass a new sports betting law, but this time amend the compact to only allow in-person betting on Indian lands and if they do that, then sports betting can be available on tribal properties," Wallach said.

As for bets that were placed for Monday night's NFL game between the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Wallach said that sits in limbo.

"I would imagine that the right call here would be for the Seminole Tribe to declare the bets as void ab initio. meaning invalid, and just refund the money back to the customer," Wallach said.

Read the full opinion here or below.

Sports Betting Opinion by ABC Action News on Scribd

On Nov. 1, sports betting went live in Florida with the Hard Rock Sportsbook. At last check, following the judge's decision, the app was still working.

On Aug. 16, West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation both filed lawsuits against the approval of the company by Interior Sec. Deb Halland. Both groups own two brick-and-mortar casinos in Florida.

On Sept. 27, a separate challenge of the approval was filed by Monterra MF and its co-plaintiffs.

According to the judge's opinion, all but one of the co-plaintiffs live, work, or own property near Florida casinos. The other co-plaintiff is No Casinos, a nonprofit organization that opposes the expansion of gambling in Florida.

This story was originally published by Emily McCain on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa, Florida.