Several Native American groups on Wednesday filed amicus briefs in the US District Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, supporting the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the departments of Interior and Justice in their attempt to reinstate a 2021 gambling compact that brought sports betting to Florida.
State-wide mobile sports betting lasted in Florida for only the month of November 2021 before the Seminoles relented to a federal judge and suspended taking bets via their Hard Rock Digital app. Judge Dabney L. Friedrich voided the compact ratified by the Florida legislature when two pari-mutuel outlets successfully argued that the Seminoles being granted the right to offer gambling off tribal lands was beyond the scope of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The Department of the Interior had asserted after allowing the compact to go into effect that tribes should be given leeway in exploiting new gambling opportunities and that the 1988 IGRA law could not have foreseen the use of online and mobile wagering.
On Wednesday, the National Indian Gaming Association, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, the Arizona Indiana Gaming Association, and the California Indian Gaming Association filed amicus briefs supporting the appeal.
The brief states:
“Each knows that the District Court’s decision in this matter, if affirmed on appeal, poses a very real threat to the rights of all Indian tribes to offer statewide internet sports betting in those states that authorize such gaming for any person, organization or entity for any purpose, which in turn poses a very real threat to the Amici Tribes’ ability to achieve the goals of tribal self-sufficiency and self-governance intended by Congress in the passage of IGRA. 25 U.S.C. 2702(1).”
The group goes on to assert that Friedrich’s decision threatens to exclude Native American operators from an exploding national sports betting economy. At the heart of the tribes’ argument is that not all elements of a particular gambling activity must be confined to tribal land to comply with IGRA. Under the so-called hub-and-spoke sports betting model employed the Seminole Tribe last November, the servers facilitating state-wide mobile bets were housed on their tribal property in South Florida.
Seminoles Compact Becomes National Tribal Concern
Former long-time tribal gaming lawyer Deril Jordan said at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference in July that he believed Friedrich had incorrectly applied IGRA in nullifying a compact that would also have granted the Seminoles the right to offer craps and roulette in their Florida casinos.
Tribes that offer state-wide mobile sports betting in other jurisdictions — notably Arizona and Connecticut — do so having made traditional operator deals with those states after the practice was legalized. The supporting tribes contend that the Florida legislature in effect changed state law “both in the context of legislation ratifying the Seminole Tribe’s 2021 Compact and in the passage of enabling legislation,” citing Dalton v. Pataki, a 2005 New York Appellate Court ruling that upheld the right of tribes to offer certain forms of gaming if similar was allowable by law.
Sports betting in Florida was enabled through the compact and anti-gambling expansion constitutional amendment passed in 2019 adds another layer of legal intrigue to this case. In its brief filed on Wednesday, the state of Florida contended it “has a substantial interest in reinstating the Compact, either in whole or in part. It will produce revenue of approximately $2.5 billion for the State in the first five years and create thousands of jobs for Floridians.”
With the entire compact vacated, tribal gaming in Florida reverted to the auspices of a 2010 deal and the Tribe ceased making installments on the $500 million in yearly revenue sharing with the state.
In its brief, the Seminole Tribe of Florida asserts:
“The gaming industry in the United States is moving inexorably online, particularly with respect to sports betting. The District Court’s interpretation of IGRA effectively erects a wall around tribal lands and prevents tribes from keeping pace with online advancements in the gaming industry. Contrary to the District Court’s interpretation, nothing in IGRA prevents a state and a tribe from agreeing to allow a tribal casino located on Indian lands to accept wagers from players physically located elsewhere within the state when placement of the wagers is permitted under state law and properly included in a compact.”
The Seminoles Amicus brief also claims to correct an Interior state in its brief, “clarifying that the parties to the 2021 Compact understood that IGRA alone was not sufficient to authorize the gaming activity, and that a change to State law was also necessary.”
The Seminole brief claims that the inclusion of online sports betting in the 2021 compact was “clearly authorized by IGRA’s jurisdiction allocation provisions.”