Legal Challenges Expected Over Florida’s $500M Seminole Compact

Posted on: April 26, 2021, 03:52h. 

Last updated on: June 23, 2021, 01:51h.

Hard Rock International owner the Seminole tribe on Friday inked a deal with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) that could herald the biggest gambling expansion in the state for decades. But DeSantis says state lawyers fully anticipate legal challenges, which they believe can be deflected.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) and Seminole Tribal Chairman Marcellus William Osceola Jr. signing the new compact Friday. (Image: Ron DeSantis/Twitter)

The new compact is being called “historic.” If approved by the legislature, it would authorize sports betting and full-blown Las Vegas-style gambling, including craps and roulette, at the tribe’s seven casinos across Florida. In return, the Seminoles would pay the state a minimum of $500 million per year, a sum that increases in proportion with profits.

It’s the culmination of five years of failed negotiations and legal battles between the tribe and the state. Under the terms of the deal, the Seminoles would be the exclusive operator of sports betting for 30 years.

If enacted, Florida residents over the age of 21 will be able to place a bet via mobile apps routed through the Seminole reservation. Their choices include any professional and collegiate sports team and individual performance, motorsports event, and Olympic competition.

Collision Course with Court

The mobile component will form a crucial part of the state’s argument if the deal is tested in court. In 2018, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval of all proposed gambling expansion in the state. Anti-gambling campaigners will argue that the deal violates this amendment.

Lawyers for the state and the Seminoles, meanwhile, are expected to argue that the deal does not amount to gambling expansion in Florida, only on Seminole sovereign land.

They would also have to argue that statewide mobile betting, accessible to gamblers outside the Seminole reservations, does not constitute gambling expansion in the state, because servers are located on Seminole land.

This potentially conflicts with a 2016 federal court ruling against the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel. When, in 2014, the Nation launched an online bingo site in California on the grounds that bets were being processed on its territory, they were swiftly sued by the State of California and the federal government.

Ultimately, the court ruled, “A bet must be legal both where it is initiated and where it is received.”

‘All Kinds of Arguments’

Despite this, DeSantis is optimistic.

“There are all kinds of arguments people will throw out there, but … this is operated by the Tribe, operated on tribal lands, and I think it satisfies Amendment 3. If somebody wants to contest that, both the Tribe and the state will be defending the agreement that we have here today,’’ he said Friday, as reported by The Miami Herald.

Wealthy Florida businessmen Armando Codina and Norman Braman, gambling expansion opponents, confirmed to the Herald they were watching the legislation accompanying the Seminole compact closely and were prepared to mount a legal challenge when necessary.

It may never come to that. While the bill has the backing it needs in the Senate, support is less assured in the House, which has become a graveyard for gambling expansion bills in recent years.