Florida Judge Denies Seminole Stay, Tribe Files Appeal With Federal Court

November 28, 2021
The Seminole Tribe of Florida on Thursday filed an emergency motion with the federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., seeking a stay of a ruling that online sports betting allowed under the tribe’s compact with the state violates federal law.


UPDATED: This article has been updated to include additional details from the judge's ruling and the tribe's legal filings plus context regarding the potential consequences of the Seminole Tribe case.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida on Thursday filed an emergency motion with the federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., seeking a stay of last week’s ruling that online sports betting allowed under the tribe’s compact with the state violates federal law.

The tribe asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to issue a stay pending a full appeal of the ruling by U.S. district court judge Dabney Friedrich, which is also before the appellate court.

Late on Wednesday, Friedrich denied the tribe’s request to suspend her ruling that invalidated the tribe’s landmark new gaming compact with the state, even as the tribe continues to offer its Hard Rock mobile sportsbook that launched on November 1 for players across Florida.

In a five-page ruling, Friedrich wrote that the tribe had “not shown a substantial likelihood” that its appeal would succeed.

She also dismissed the argument that the tribe’s interests were inadequately represented by lawyers acting on behalf of the federal government during a shambolic hearing earlier this month, because even “a stronger presentation would not have changed the case’s outcome, as both [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act]’s text and Supreme Court precedent require vacating the Secretary [of the Interior]’s approval” of the compact.

The tribe was also unable to demonstrate that it would suffer irreparable harm by suspending operations under the new compact pending its appeal. Even if it did, the Florida commercial gaming interests challenging the agreement argue that they face “ongoing competitive injury.”

“Because there are economic losses on both sides of this case, the Court is hesitant, while sitting in equity, to transfer those losses to the party that prevailed at law,” Friedrich wrote.

Friedrich originally ruled on Monday that the compact violated federal law by allowing gaming outside Indian lands and elected to vacate the entire compact rather than simply striking the online sports-betting portions and allowing the rest of the compact to remain in place.

In a 28-page filing on Thursday, lawyers for the Seminole Tribe requested an expedited ruling from the Court of Appeals by Friday, December 3 on its motion for a stay of Friedrich’s order.

“Granting the stay will not cause any immediate harm to Plaintiffs, who have only alleged speculative harms at this point,” the tribe’s lawyers wrote in the motion, whereas “the Tribe, the State, and the public would suffer serious economic and employment consequences.”

“With years of negotiation and approval by various State and federal entities, the 2021 Compact has been thoroughly vetted, and the public interest lies in maintaining the status quo—at least until the Tribe’s appeal is resolved,” they wrote

Despite Monday’s district court ruling, the tribe’s Hard Rock online sportsbook has continued to accept bets through the Thanksgiving weekend. As of Sunday, the Hard Rock’s online sportsbook was still posting odds on sporting events and its app was still available for download in the Apple app store.

But the upcoming ruling by the Court of Appeals appears likely to test how long mobile sports betting in Florida will continue as the tribe and various technology and service providers continue to monitor developments in the case.

Soon after Friedrich's ruling last week, Google updated its gambling advertising policies to disallow paid ads for Florida sports betting due to the “ruling from a Washington D.C. federal court which invalidated the Florida-Seminole Tribal Gaming Compact and made sports betting in Florida illegal.”

At stake in Florida is whether the Seminole Tribe can maintain exclusive control of the state’s sports-betting market through its compact, or whether state-wide mobile sports wagering will instead require voter approval of a ballot initiative such as that currently being pursued by FanDuel and DraftKings.

The Seminole case is also being closely watched for consequences beyond the Sunshine State, with it likely to indicate whether tribes will be able to participate in online gambling via a compact or instead only by submitting to state licensing, regulation and taxation.

Unlike in Florida, tribes in Michigan, Connecticut and Arizona have all gone down the latter route for online sports betting and internet gaming. In addition to the Seminole, one tribe in Colorado is operating under the former structure and four Indian tribes are now proposing to authorize mobile sports wagering in California using the Seminole Compact model as well.

Marcellus W. Osceola, Jr, chairman of the Seminole tribal council, said in a declaration filed alongside the motion for a stay of Friedrich’s ruling that the tribe had already hired some 237 employees and spent more than $25m to develop the Hard Rock online sportsbook, with that number expected to grow to $45m by the end of the year.

Since launching on November 1, he said, online sports betting has generated “millions in revenue per week,” with that money being used to pay back development costs and make payments to the state.

In addition, he confirmed that if the state’s 2010 compact with the tribe is indeed restored, as it would be per Friedrich’s order, the tribe would once again halt all gambling revenue-sharing payments to the state, which are worth $37.5m per month under the new compact.

According to a court order published on Friday, the owners of Florida’s Magic City Casino should file a brief opposing the tribe’s motion for a stay no later than Tuesday, with a response from the Seminole Tribe due by noon on Wednesday.

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