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U.S. Government Doesn't Want Seminoles' Help On Florida Sports-Betting Appeal

October 19, 2022
The U.S. Department of the Interior wants to restore online sports-betting operations in Florida by the Seminole Tribe, but does not want the tribe’s help in making that happen.


The U.S. Department of the Interior wants to restore online sports-betting operations in Florida by the Seminole Tribe, but does not want the tribe’s help in making that happen.

Such an intervention could diminish the federal government’s authority to act on behalf of tribes in other legal disputes, according to an October 3 brief submitted to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

“The government itself can adequately represent a non-party’s interest in seeing federal action upheld,” attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice wrote in their brief.

The Justice Department is representing the Interior Department in appealing a November 22, 2021 decision by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich to halt online betting operations by the Seminoles.

Friedrich ruled internet bets accepted on-reservation by the Seminoles from patrons outside tribal lands violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA).

Oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals could occur before the end of the year, and a decision is anticipated by mid-2023.

After agreeing in May 2021 to a new 30-year gambling compact in Florida with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, the Seminoles launched online sports wagering on November 1 and internet betting continued in the Sunshine State through December 4.

Bob Jarvis, a gaming law professor at Shepard Broad College of Law in Davie, Florida, said he thinks there are additional reasons why the Interior Department wants to keep the Seminoles out of the federal government’s appeal of Friedrich’s ruling.

“On the merits, the appeal is much more streamlined if it’s just the government arguing that its decision to approve the compact was correct under the Administrative Procedure Act,” Jarvis said.

However, it is easy to see why the Seminoles want to intervene with their blue chip attorneys after Judge Friedrich shredded an obviously unprepared Justice Department attorney during oral arguments on November 5.

“The government is still miffed at the Seminoles for their prior criticism of how the [federal] government handled the case in the district court,” Jarvis said.

Moreover, the federal government has little to gain in a Washington, D.C. court by adding a Florida Indian tribe as a co-litigant in its appeal, according to Jarvis.

“Given that the Seminoles were not a party in the case, it is odd for them to be trying to jump in now and open a procedural can of worms that is guaranteed to slow down the proceedings even more than they already have been slowed down,” Jarvis said.

The Seminoles have appealed Friedrich’s ruling against the tribe’s intervention. The tribe’s appeal has been consolidated with the federal government’s appeal to restore online sports betting in Florida.

“The Seminole Tribe is not without options,” said John Holden, an associate professor of business law at Oklahoma State University who writes about the gambling industry.

Even if the tribe loses its appeal, “they will have a chance to petition [the U.S. Supreme Court],” Holden said.

The Florida tribe also has submitted an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the D.C. Court of Appeals explaining why the Florida gambling compact should not have been invalidated.

A source, who requested anonymity, said the Seminoles understand why the federal government is resisting the tribe’s intervention.

“The Seminoles would still like to be in the appeal, but the government is following its regular procedure,” the source said.

The Florida gambling compact case could be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court because of its potentially profound implications for online sports betting by tribes and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

IGRA also is being challenged in federal court in Washington state where Maverick Gaming is arguing gaming tribes have an unconstitutional advantage over commercial gaming operations.

Maverick Gaming’s attorney in the dispute is former U.S. Solicitor Ted Olson, who won the historic U.S. Supreme Court case in May 2018 which allowed all states to legalize sports betting.

Oral arguments in the Maverick Gaming case are scheduled for October 28 in the Western (U.S.) District of Washington state.

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