Tuesday, May 17, 2022
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Department of the Interior to Fight Court Block of Florida Sports Betting

Department of the Interior (DoI) Secretary Deb Haaland notified a federal court this week about the federal agency’s intention to appeal a November court ruling that invalidated Internet sports betting and the 2022 Gaming Compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Haaland filed her notice of appeal Wednesday at the US District Court for the District of Columbia, but the actual appeal will be filed on Saturday.

DoI Fights Back Against the System

The argument of the federal government agency would need to convince the Appeals Court that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) grants the DoI authority for approval of Florida’s Gaming Compact, even if it allows bets to take place on lands other than tribal property.

This notice does not indicate what arguments Haaland or the government may be planning to present.

The US District Court issued on November 22 a summary judgment nullifying the DoI’s federal approval. The compact couldn’t be passed without that approval, and the Seminole tribe was forced to halt its online sports betting activity.

The Seminole Tribe’s app for sports betting had been activated just three weeks before. Other provisions of the 2022 Gaming Compact were also left unimplemented. These would have allowed for the expansion of Seminole Tribe gambling and the addition of new casino games. However, sports betting was the first major expansion.

Already, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has appealed to the US Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit. However, the federal appeal may be stronger. The US District Court in November ruled that the Seminole Tribe’s attempt at intervening in the case was moot.

Appeal Makes a Surprise Appearance

Haaland, the federal government, and others were silent about appealing until the notice was filed on Thursday. The compact was dissolved by a federal lawsuit brought by two South Florida card room owners, West Flagler Associates (doing business as Magic City Casino) and Bonita Fort Myers Corp. (doing business as Bonita Springs Poker Room).

They argued that the Tribe’s approval was illegal because it allowed them to operate gaming on reservations other than their own. This is contrary to the IGRA, they asserted. These groups expressed concern about Floridians placing bets on sports using smartphones or computers via the Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock sportsbook app.

Bonita Fort Myers Corp. and West Flagler Associates also claimed that the approval violates federal laws. They unlawfully permitted Internet and bank wire transfers and payments relating to Florida sports betting.

Depending on the outcome of the DoI’s challenge, the implications are far-reaching. If the court sides with the department, it will feel empowered in its decision-making capabilities. This could lead to more tribal gaming compacts offering more services. If the appeal is denied, however, it could cause future compacts to suffer a setback.

Another lawsuit based on tribal gaming compacts is brewing in Washington State.

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