Florida Sports Betting In Limbo As Judge Prepares ‘Detailed And Thorough Opinion’

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Hard Rock Guitar Hotel and Casino, built by the Seminole Indians (Jillian Cain Photography)

Florida sports betting remains in limbo, two days after a federal judge was expected to rule on the legality of the compact that brought sports betting to the Sunshine State. 

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich heard arguments earlier this month in the case brought by two Florida pari-mutuel companies who contend the compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state is illegal. She had been expected to issue her ruling by Monday.

Federal judges don’t work on anybody’s clock except their own, so one should never be surprised when an opinion doesn’t show up.  I also suspect that Judge Friedrich is trying to write a very detailed and thorough opinion that will stand up if appealed,” Bob Jarvis, a gambling law expert at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, wrote in an email to Gaming Today late Tuesday. 

Issues At Play In Federal Case

The main bone of contention in the case, West Flagler Associates et al v. Haaland et al, is whether the language in the compact, which stipulates all mobile bets would be processed on servers located on tribal lands, is legal under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. 

Enacted in 1988, the IGRA states all tribal betting must take place “on Indian lands.”

Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland approved the compact in August. 

Friedrich, a Trump appointee who has served on the District Court for the District of Columbia since 2017, admonished federal lawyers at the hearing Nov. 5 for not being better prepared. 

She gave them an extension until Nov. 9 to fully present their case in writing, and last week attorneys for the federal government filed a 33-page brief defending DOI’s decision to approve the compact.

The compact “only authorizes gaming that occurs on the tribe’s Indian lands, consistent with IGRA, and does not and could not authorize activity occurring off of the tribe’s Indian lands,” the federal attorneys argued in their brief, according to ClickOrlando.com, a local news outlet. 

No matter how Friedrich rules, it will likely not be the final word on sports betting in Florida. 

“There’s no real need for a quick decision,” Jarvis noted.  “However Judge Friedrich rules, her ruling almost certainly will be appealed (probably if the plaintiffs lose, definitely if the defendants lose) and the games will go on during the appeal.  So she knows she’s unlikely to be the last word and in the meantime there’s no real harm occurring.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida began offering mobile sports bets earlier this month. If Friedrich rules the compact illegal, it is unclear whether betting would still be allowed to occur, as either side is expected to appeal. 

About the Author

Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary Shaffrey is an award-winning journalist who co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Government." She has spent more than 20 years covering government, both at the state and federal level. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and the Providence College Friars she feels cursed. Luckily she is a hockey mom too so her spirits aren't totally shot.

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