In a move that many legal analysts saw coming, a federal judge ruled that the compact signed last April between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe violates federal law and is invalid. The ruling means that the Seminole tribe’s plans to expand their casino empire and introduce sports betting options and online casinos like our own Grande Vegas Casino promo codes is, for now, being shelved.
According to Federal Law, native American tribes have the right to operate gambling facilities in states where the law allows for such activities. The native American casinos are under the jurisdiction of the federal government but in order to operate them, they must coordinate with their local state government through a “compact” which sets out the percentages of profits that are to be paid to the state.
Florida renewed its compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida in April 2021 that expanded the Seminole’s authority to operate gaming operations in Florida. Specifically, it gave the Tribe the exclusive rights to operate sports betting in the State and included the option for online betting.
The 30-year gaming compact had been approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Department of the Interior whose National Indian Gaming Commission oversees tribal casinos. The agreement included the Seminoles’ agreement to pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the first 5 years of the 30-year agreement in exchange for being allowed to run the state’s sports betting operations and add craps and roulette to their existing casino operations.
Objections to the compact came fast and furious. One of the biggest legal challenges came from those who argued that any agreement that authorizes sports betting outside of tribal lands violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Last week, a federal district court judge in the District of Columbia agreed and ruled that the State of Florida had no right to give the Seminole Tribe a monopoly on sports betting. The judge invalidated the entire agreement which halted the expansion of the Seminole’s casino empire, including their plans to introduce sports betting to Florida under their own brand.
Judge Dabney L. Friedrich ruled that sports betting in the state, which the Seminole tribe had launched on November 1st, must be halted. She also blocked the tribes' Hard Rock casinos in Hillsborough and Broward counties from becoming full Vegas-style casinos with the additions of roulette and craps games.
Friedrich determined that the compact violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That Act specifically states that any gambling operations must take place on tribal lands. By claiming that since all bets were going to go through a server that was located on tribal lands, the online betting operations were legal, the state was creating a legal “fiction”, said Friedrich, and “this Court cannot accept that fiction... When a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by ‘deeming’ their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not.”
Friedrich said that, to change the present law, a citizens’ initiative -- constitutional amendment -- would need to be passed. But, he said, in the meantime the previous compact -- which took effect in 2010 -- would be reinstated. Without a referendum any new compacts would be limited to authorizing Indian gambling, including online gambling, “solely on Indian lands.”
The new compact was based on a so-called “hub and spoke” model for sports betting. It tried to circumvent the limitations of the Florida Constitution which requires voter approval for expanded gambling other than that included in a tribal compact. That argument that the tribe and the governor presented was that by allowing online sports betting to go through a server on Seminole property, they were not expanding gaming throughout the state.
“The appropriate remedy Is to vacate the compact. ,” Friedrich wrote, warning, “What the Secretary may not do, however, is approve future compacts that authorize conduct outside IGRA’s scope.’’
The challenge to the compact was brought by Miami businessmen Armando Codina and Norman Braman, the anti-gambling group No Casinos and the owners of the Broward County and Hillsborough casinos, Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino. The plaintiffs had filed lawsuits against the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, alleging that her department had illegally approved the gaming compact.
Braman and Codina have been fighting to block gaming expansion for decades. They lended their support to a 2018 amendment that requires that a statewide referendum would be needed to pass in order to expand gambling in the state. “I think this is a big victory. I couldn’t ask for more.’
Daniel Wallach, a Hallandale Beach-based lawyer who specializes in gambling and casino laws says that he expects that the Seminole Tribe and the state will appeal the decision but, he said , he had predicted this outcome. “The avalanche of legal authority was on the side of invalidating online sports betting. She [Judge Friedrich] recognized the obvious that a customer located in Jacksonville, or Key West, or Pensacola is not on Indian land when they initiate the wager….the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe were operating in a state of delusion.”
What is more likely, he said, is for the Florida Legislature to promote a referendum on an amendment that would ask citizens to vote on sports betting or find another way to allow the Seminoles to expand without violating IGRA. Sports betting operators DraftKings and FanDuel have already launched a petition drive to bring such a referendum to state voters next year.
Codina said his coalition will continue the fight against any attempt to expand gambling in the state.