Florida Sports Betting Halted After D.C. Federal Court Denies Appeal

December 6, 2021
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The Seminole Tribe of Florida on Saturday halted sports-betting operations after a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. voted 2-1 to reject the tribe’s appeal to continue accepting wagers pending further court proceedings.

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The Seminole Tribe of Florida on Saturday halted sports-betting operations after a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. voted 2-1 to reject the tribe’s appeal to continue accepting wagers pending further court proceedings.

“Despite the decision, the Seminole Tribe looks forward to working with the state of Florida and the U.S. Department of Justice to aggressively defend the validity of the 2021 compact before the appeals court, which has yet to rule on the merits of the 2021 compact,” Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminoles, said in a prepared statement on Saturday.

In a two-page ruling late Friday without comment from the three judges, the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. denied the Seminoles’ request to keep taking bets online and at the tribe’s brick-and-mortar tribal casinos in Florida.

U.S. Circuit Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, voted to allow the Seminoles to continue accepting wagers until the legal dispute over the tribe’s historic gambling compact with Florida is resolved.

But U.S. Circuit Judges Nina Pillard, who was appointed by President Obama in 2013, and Justin Walker, who was appointed by President Trump in 2020, voted to deny the Seminoles’ appeal.

The Seminoles appealed after U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who was appointed by Trump in 2017, rejected the tribe’s request to suspend her November 22 decision nullifying the compact.

“Judge Friedrich quickly and correctly denied the tribe’s motion for a stay, and that denial has now been upheld by the appeals court,” John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, a Florida anti-gambling group which filed one of two lawsuits challenging the compact, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email.

It is not clear yet if Rogers, Pillard and Walker will preside over the hearing on the merits of the lawsuits by No Casinos and West Flagler Associates, a Miami pari-mutuel company that operates Magic City Casino.

The Seminoles began accepting online wagers via its Hard Rock Sportsbook platform on November 1, two weeks before they were expected to launch internet sports betting in Florida.

Although the tribe has not explained why they started early, sources said the Seminoles wanted to buttress their argument that they stood to lose millions of dollars if their sports-betting operations ceased.

“Account balances for all current players will be refunded as requested,” Bitner said in his statement on Saturday.

The high-stakes legal dispute in Florida centers on whether a tribal gaming compact can permit an Indian tribe to accept sports bets from players throughout the state, provided the servers are located on reservation lands.

Meanwhile, the increasingly bitter war between the Seminoles and DraftKings and FanDuel to gain entry to the nascent sports-betting market in Florida shows no signs of abating.

The Seminoles are alleged to be paying petition-gathering firms to refuse offers from DraftKings and FanDuel to collect signatures to put an initiative to establish a competitive online sports betting market on the November 2022 ballot in Florida.

The two leading U.S. operators must obtain 891,589 signatures by February 1 or the sports-betting initiative will not qualify for next year’s ballot.

Even supporters of the initiative acknowledge their chances are no better than 50/50, according to sources.

Florida Education Champions, the political action committee gathering signatures for DraftKings and FanDuel, has charged that intimidation and bullying tactics are being used by the tribe to hinder its efforts.

Last week, Las Vegas Sands sued various groups associated with the Seminole Tribe in state court alleging that they were paying off petitioners involved in the company’s effort to establish a separate ballot initiative to permit commercial casino-resorts in Florida.

“Florida Education Champions will be determining next steps to demand this egregious, criminal and offensive behavior from vendors immediately cease in order to protect Florida voters, our petition gatherers and every citizen’s rights guaranteed under the Constitution for fair and open elections,” Christina Johnson, a spokeswoman for Florida Education Champions, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email on Friday.

With the Seminoles and DraftKings and FanDuel struggling to achieve their goals in Florida, one might assume that both sides could be willing to negotiate a deal and perhaps even form a partnership to put a sports-betting initiative on the ballot next year.

But hostilities are at a fever pitch, and there is no indication that either side is willing to talk to the other, according to sources.

The result is that internet sports betting has stalled in Florida after only one month of operations.

Bob Jarvis, a professor who teaches gaming law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, cited a bill in the U.S. Congress which might provide a solution.

The bill, introduced on July 1 by Democratic Congressman Lou Correa of California, would amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to clarify that mobile sports wagers could be authorized under a compact as long as the bets are processed by computer servers on tribal land.

So far, Correa’s bill has seven co-sponsors — four Republicans and three Democrats.

“If Congress had known about the internet in 1988 when it passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, it would have included a sentence saying that off-reservation mobile bets are authorized so long as the bet ultimately is placed on reservation land,” Jarvis said.

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