A District of Columbia judge has ruled that the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s compact with the state violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and invalidated the agreement.
This effectively brings to a halt sports betting in the state, which launched on 1 November under the exclusive rights set out in the compact.
Agreed in April and signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis in May, the compact grants the Seminole Tribe, owners of the Hard Rock brand, exclusive rights to online and in-person sports betting in the state.
It was estimated to generate returns of at least $2.5bn for the state over five years, and at least $6bn by 2030. In addition, the compact included a provision that would allow the tribe to roll out roulette and craps to their land-based properties.
However, it was challenged by casino operators West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation in the District of Columbia District Court. It queried whether online wagering powered by servers located on tribal property could in fact be considered as betting on tribal lands.
It argued that this effectively amounted to a violation of Florida’s state constitution, which outlines that any expansion beyond tribal lands must be approved through a referendum.
This was supported by Judge Dabney Friedrich, who ruled the compact attempted to “authorize sports betting both on and off Indian lands”.
“In its own words, the Compact authorizes such betting by patrons who are ‘physically located in the State [of Florida] but not on [the Tribe’s] Indian Lands’,” Friedrich noted.
The claim bets placed via servers on tribal property could be considered betting on Indian lands was rejected. The court “cannot accept that fiction”, Friedrich wrote in her judgement. When an agreement authorized an activity only at certain locations, it could not be evaded by “deeming” an activity to occur at that location.
Further, she added: “By simultaneously authorizing sports betting on Indian lands and deeming gaming across Florida to occur on those same lands, [the compact] purports to authorize sports betting throughout the State.”
Therefore it could be considered to have legalized sports betting on and off Flordia’s tribal lands, something that violated the IGRA’s jurisdiction over tribal lands. This, Friedrich concluded, meant it should be rejected.
As such, she ruled that the compact should be vacated immediately, and the tribe’s prior compact – agreed in 2010 – be reinstated. “In that respect, this decision restores the legal status of class III gaming in Florida to where it was on August 4, 2021,” Friedrich wrote.
The judge added that the judgement did not preclude the tribe or the state legislature from pursuing other paths to legal online sports betting. This could take the form of a renegotiated compact where online betting was restricted to Indian lands, Friedrich explained, or through a statewide referendum.