Holding Upper Hand In Court, Seminoles In No Rush To Resume Bets In Florida

September 21, 2023
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All the buzz about the potential return of sports betting in Florida as early as this week appears to be fading, and the Seminole Tribe seems content to let the legal process play out before rebooting online wagering operations.
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All the buzz about the potential return of sports betting in Florida as early as this week appears to be fading, and the Seminole Tribe seems content to let the legal process play out before rebooting online wagering operations.

The Seminoles remained tight-lipped about their plans for the Hard Rock mobile sportsbook on Wednesday (September 20), and they may have good reason to follow the Latin adage that patience is the greatest virtue.

The tribe has recently won two key victories in the U.S. Court of Appeals where a panel of justices unanimously upheld the validity of a landmark 2021 gambling compact that authorized state-wide mobile sports wagering, and then declined to review the ruling.

But a motion for a stay to prevent the resumption of sports betting in Florida remains under review by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Florida commercial gaming operator West Flagler Associates asked for the stay on Friday (September 15), four days after the D.C. circuit court denied an appeal of a unanimous decision by three of the court’s judges to allow sports betting in Florida to proceed.

If a stay is denied, West Flagler Associates said in its motion that it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If either the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court grants a stay, then the Seminole Tribe would be required to stop accepting wagers pending further legal proceedings.

“I think there are real business costs to starting and then having to stop their sports betting operation, including the impact on their workers and customers,” said Bob Jarvis, a gaming law professor at Shepard Broad College of Law in Davie, Florida.

Moreover, Jarvis said, “there is a real danger of upsetting the [Washington] D.C. Circuit judges and the U.S. Supreme Court justices if they jump the gun early.”

A different opinion comes from Dennis Drazin, the New Jersey attorney who wrote the sports-betting bill which led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018 enabling states to legalize and regulate sports betting.

“I would start taking bets now if there is no stay granted,” Drazin told Vixio GamblingCompliance in an email.

The U.S. sports-betting industry in commercial and tribal gaming across the country, not just Florida, is waiting with bated breath for the Seminoles to process their next wager.

But even with the tribe winning in court so far and a successful appeal by West Flagler Associates to the Supreme Court considered a longshot at best, the date of the next wager in Florida is anybody’s guess.

Another reason why the Seminoles may want to be extremely cautious before resuming sports-betting operations is their experience in a similar situation two years ago.

After the tribe initially launched online sports-betting operations in Florida on November 1, 2021, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich of Washington, D.C. ordered a halt to the wagering on December 4, 2021.

The Seminoles have not accepted an online sports wager in Florida since then.

“While the [Seminole] Tribe may not have anything legally stopping them, from a marketing and consumer relations perspective you probably do not want another short launch and shutdown,” said John Holden, an associate professor in the department of management at Oklahoma State University.

“One [betting shutdown] was not ideal, but two could sour bettors even further,” Holden said.

A California tribal gaming executive, who requested anonymity, said: “I’m hearing [Florida sports-betting operations by the Seminoles] probably won’t happen until next year.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of the Interior still has not finalized proposed regulations that likely would discourage lawsuits like the one filed by West Flagler Associates.

One of the proposed regulations would broaden the power of the secretary of the Interior Department to expressly support gambling compacts such as the 30-year agreement negotiated in 2021 between the Seminoles and Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

The proposed regulations would authorize tribes and states to negotiate compacts that enable mobile wagers to be offered throughout the state via servers on tribal lands. 

Instead of clearly endorsing the Florida gambling compact, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on August 6, 2021, said the agreement was deemed approved.

The proposed Department of the Interior regulations are expected to become final sometime this winter.

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