Seminole Tribe Appealing Court Order Blocking Florida Compact

November 24, 2021
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Reactions trickled in throughout Tuesday to the major federal court ruling quashing the gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida, with the tribe already taking the first steps towards launching an appeal.

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Reactions trickled in throughout Tuesday to the major federal court ruling quashing the gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida, with the tribe already taking the first steps towards launching an appeal.

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled late Monday night 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.

However, the tribe’s Hard Rock online sportsbook continued to accept bets Tuesday despite the judge’s ruling.

“The Seminole Tribe is reviewing the judge’s opinion and carefully considering its next steps,” Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the tribe, said Tuesday morning.

Those next steps revealed themselves as the day went on, as the tribe filed notice that it intended to appeal Friedrich’s ruling.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the tribe filed for a stay of the ruling which, if granted, would allow the tribe to continue offering sports betting pending the results of an appeal.

In its motion, the tribe said it should have been permitted to intervene in the lawsuit filed by West Flagler Associates against the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The tribe also argued that the defense mounted by the federal government did not sufficiently represent the tribe’s needs, pointing to the government’s unpreparedness at a November 5 hearing and a failure to advocate for the severability of the compact’s sports-betting clauses from the rest of the compact.

“Federal defendants do not share the tribe’s economic or sovereign interests in defending the 2021 compact and do not adequately represent the tribe’s interest in this case,” attorneys for the tribe wrote in a motion for the stay.

“Far from taking a position that advanced the tribe’s interests in its own sovereignty, the United States actively opposed the dispositive motion to dismiss filed by the tribe that sought to advance those interests, was unprepared to argue the merits during the November 5 telephonic hearing, and forfeited any request for severance by omitting it from its motions to dismiss, its corresponding replies, and its supplemental briefs.”

Marcellus W. Osceola, Jr, chairman of the Seminole tribal council, said in a declaration filed alongside the motion for a stay that the tribe had already spent more than $25m to develop the 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.”

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 revenue sharing payments, which had reached $37.5m per month under the new compact.

“If the tribe is not permitted to operate under the 2021 compact during an appeal, then the state would lose tens of millions per month in revenue sharing payments from the tribe,” Osceola wrote.

The tribe requested a decision from Friedrich by Wednesday “so that, if necessary, the tribe can promptly seek relief in the D.C. Circuit [appeals court].”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was asked about the ruling at a press conference Tuesday morning but appeared to be unaware that the judge had thrown out the entire compact rather than just strike the mobile sports-betting provisions, noting that the latter was a possibility that both sides had anticipated through provisions of the compact.

“We knew when you do hub and spoke, it was an uncertain legal issue,” DeSantis said. “I would imagine that’s going to be appealed. If you followed that hearing, it seems like the government wasn’t prepared. It seems like they did a poor job in the argument, and I know the tribe wants to be able to go, so we’ll support whatever we can to validate the compact."

“We are reviewing the court’s perplexing ruling, which certainly contains appealable issues,” Christina Pushaw, press secretary for DeSantis, added in a later statement.

“Because neither the Seminole Tribe nor the State of Florida are parties to the case, it is unclear what if any immediate impact the ruling has in Florida. We look forward to working with the tribe to ensure the future success of the compact.”

Meanwhile, the FanDuel and DraftKings-backed effort to legalize a competitive online sports-betting market through a voter referendum continues, with Florida Education Champions, the campaign committee pursuing the referendum, touting Tuesday that it had already secured more than 500,000 signatures of the 900,000 required by February 1 to qualify for the ballot.

“Our effort was always mutually exclusive from the compact,” said Christina Johnson, a spokeswoman for the group. “Florida Education Champions’ focus remains in securing the nearly 900,000 valid petitions to make the November 2022 ballot.

“Now is the time for all entities to come together so we may provide a competitive legal sports-betting market for Floridians, while generating the expected hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues for the Florida Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.”

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