The news that the Seminole Tribe has suspended online sports betting is a kick in the teeth for punters living in Florida.
The tribe temporarily suspended accepting bets on its Hard Rock sportsbook mobile app on December 4th, 2021.
The suspension followed an appeal court’s refusal to place on hold a previous ruling that the state giving the Seminole Tribe complete control over sports betting violates federal law.
The Hard Rock sports betting app is still working to allow customers to withdraw funds from their accounts.
A deal between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Marcellus Osceola Jr (Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman) signed last spring, included sports betting.
The 30-year deal – known as a compact – was authorized by the Legislature in May this year, and it allowed the Seminole Tribe to accept sports bets from gamblers throughout the state online.
The sports bets would be run through servers on tribal property.
The agreement between the two parties said that bets made in Florida “using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.”
Owners of the Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, the Havernick family, have challenged this in the courts.
They claim that the agreement breaks federal laws as it violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which allows gambling activity on tribal lands.
The ruling was based on a gambler’s ability to be able to place a sports bet online, rather than be on the tribal lands.
In other words, it’s a technical argument.
Does the gambler have to be on the tribal land to place the sports bet? Or can he/she be sitting in their bedroom hundreds of miles away, placing the sports bet on his/her mobile device, which is then processed on a server on tribal land?
The court ruling has come down on the side of the Havernick family. The ruling effectively says that in order to place a sports bet, you have to be on tribal land.
Judge Dabney Friedrich invalidated the ‘compact’ agreement on November 22nd, 2021.
Friedrich found that the US Department of the Interior, the agency that looks after tribal gambling, made a mistake when they agreed to the compact earlier this year.
This is a huge financial blow to the state of Florida.
Under the terms of the compact, the tribe has already paid the state $75 million since October. They have also pledged to pay around $2.5 billion over the next 5 years.
Obviously, this isn’t the end of the saga. There is way too much cash at stake, and no one on either side looks ready to walk away.
The Seminole Tribe has already appealed the November 22nd ruling. This latest hearing was an attempt by the Seminoles to put the ruling on hold until their appeal is heard.
The defeat left them with little alternative but to suspend betting until the outcome is clearer.
There are now appeals taking place and parallel court cases running as both sides continue the fight.
The Florida Federal Government and the Seminole Tribe are both of opinion the ruling is wrong.
The state also didn’t oppose the tribe’s attempt to put the ruling on hold. Its lawyer also said they hadn’t decided whether or not to yet challenge Friedrich’s original verdict.
Rulings like this do little to help the chances of organizations looking to legalize gambling in states where betting is still illegal. It’s also possible that it could scare off the best sports betting sites from Florida.
With attempts to legalize gambling taking place in states like California, the worry has to be that negative headlines like this can decrease the likelihood of a change in the law (to allow gambling).
But all is not lost – yet, so it seems.
Friedrich wrote that the state and tribe could negotiate a new compact that allowed gambling solely on tribal soil.
She also noted that her decision does not close other avenues for online sports betting in Florida.
And she also mentioned that the people of Florida could also initiate a citizens’ initiative to allow online sports betting.
Judge Friedrich may be slightly behind the times there, as such an initiative is already underway.
One thing for certain though is the fight will go on, and the big winners will be the lawyers. As always!
There is still a possibility that this could go all the way to the Supreme Court. In which case, it could be another nine to ten months.
All in all, we are not looking at a quick resolution here. But the gambling folk of Florida will need to cling to the hope that all is not lost.
We are living in the 21st century after all, and you have to imagine that a grown-up conversation will be had at some point which allows the state to move on and online sports betting to get the resumption in some form or another.