Florida Sports Betting Update: DOJ Steps In To Support Compact

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It will be the summer, at the earliest, before the Florida sports betting compact overturned by a federal judge gets another day in court, but reading the tea leaves gives an idea of how the case will be presented.

That’s the take from one key observer of the ongoing saga pitting the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the state of Florida, and the federal government, against casino operators from the Sunshine State hungry for a piece of the multi-billion dollar sports betting industry. 

Daniel Wallach, an attorney who specializes in Florida law and gambling-related issues, said the latest tea leaves – a notice of appeal from the Department of Interior and a supplemental memorandum from the Department of Justice – means the case has “a chance.”

Wallach, who spoke for nearly an hour with Gaming Today on Thursday, was quick to add, however, “Not a good one.”

The Latest With Florida Sports Betting Case

The Justice Department indicated this week it would take up the appeal. The DOJ is getting involved because one of its primary roles is to act as the government’s lawyer, Wallach said.  The Department of Interior, a separate entity, approved the contract in August. That approval is the heart of the debate.

In its previously-filed supplemental memorandum, DOJ argues the compact relates only to in-person sports betting on casino properties, and that Florida law allows for online bets to be placed through the servers.

This is key because in the case West Flagler Associates et al v. Deb Haaland et al, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled the stance that wagering takes place on tribal lands just because that’s where the servers that process the bets are located is “fiction.” The location of the people making the bets matters, according to Friedrich’s ruling.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is what dictates how tribes can run gambling operations. It is clear all gaming must take place “on Indian lands” for it to fall under IGRA. Deb Haaland, Secretary of Interior, approved the compact earlier this year. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary.

In its notice Wednesday, DOJ argues the compact relates only to in-person sports betting on casino properties, and that Florida law allows for online bets to be placed through the servers. 

“DOJ has abandoned the server argument, and DOJ has acknowledged that the location of the bettor matters,” Wallach said. 

Since the DOI and Seminole Tribe didn’t use this argument in their briefs when the case was originally heard, Wallach explained, they cannot change course now. But since DOJ is stepping in as a party, it can. 

Wallach expected it would be spring 2022 before the various briefs and filings are presented.

“The earliest we will hear oral arguments is in the summer,” he said. 

Florida Referendum Still Has A Chance

Wallach said the issues could be resolved “tomorrow” if the state really wanted to address them, but acknowledged that is unlikely. 

Florida lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis could attempt to rewrite the compact addressing Friedrich’s concerns, which would negate the need for a trial.  They could model their efforts after similar gaming compacts that have been agreed to in Connecticut and Arizona, he said. 

Additionally, Wallach believes the referendum drive to put the question before Florida voters in the fall still has a chance. 

Florida Education Champions, the group behind the referendum drive which, if approved, would bring sports betting to the state independent of the Seminole Tribe, has until Feb. 1 to get 891,589 signatures certified.  As of this Jan. 21 publication, there were 401,958 signatures, according to the Florida Division of Elections website. 

Observers have speculated the effort is floundering with less than two weeks left before the deadline.  Last weekend DraftKings announced it would offer $100 to Florida users if the initiative made it to the ballot. 

Wallach cautioned that only the advocates know how many signatures they have. 

“I don’t know that they are struggling. I don’t have any idea how many signatures they have right now sitting in a box in some office building just waiting to be counted,” he said. 

“They are still trying, and the numbers keep going up. That means it’s within the realm of possibility.”

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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