Feds Look To Reverse Invalidation of Florida’s Seminole Tribe Gambling Compact

Lawyers from the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) have appealed to the courts to reverse the decision to make Florida’s gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe invalid. The federal government’s Indian Gaming Regulatory Act has been interpreted as governing gaming activities on tribal lands. It also gives all tribes across the country the right to offer legal gambling alternatives.

In 2021, the Seminole Tribe agreed to a compact with the state of Florida that says wagering anywhere in the state can be defined as taking place on tribal lands. According to attorneys for West Flagler and Associates in their case against the U.S. Department of the Interior, this definition makes the compact illegal. As such, the DOI made the wrong decision by approving it. Should the appeals court agree to uphold the lower court’s decision to suspend sports betting in the state, the DOI will likely appeal again.

Decision Will Determine Future Of Legal Betting

Rachel Heron, attorney for the DOI, argued on Wednesday before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that Secretary Deb Haaland had grounds to approve the compact because it doesn’t violate federal law. An attorney for the state of Florida also argued about “severability,” meaning the agreement could still be approved but with some sections regarding gambling removed.

The hearing on Wednesday is the most recent step in the legal battle that began in May 2021 when the legislature approved a compact many expected to be challenged in court. It gives the Seminoles a total monopoly on sports betting, including mobile betting that takes place throughout the state that is directed through servers on Seminole property. The issue is whether the compact violates the IGRA, which only regulates gaming on tribal lands.

Lawsuits were filed once the compact was deemed approved. In the meantime, the Seminoles launched online sports betting through the Hard Rock Digital app. However, 34 days later, the courts ruled that online gaming had to stop, and the operator took down the platform. In the original 30-year compact, the Seminole Tribe agreed to pay the state $2.5 billion in the first five years of the agreement to have total control over the state’s online sports betting market.

Final Decision Could Still Be Months Away

A District Court in Florida ruled that the compact was illegal last November, which led to the DOI filing an appeal. This week’s arguments are a chance for both sides to appeal to the panel of three judges, as it doesn’t appear there is a consensus between them.

Based on early arguments, it seems as if two of the judges may be split. Judge J. Michelle Childs was the only one not to indicate which way she was leaning based on her line of questioning.

The judges heard arguments for more than an hour before adjourning for the day. The court’s final decision on the case isn’t expected for weeks and could take a few months.

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