Seminoles Still Moving Forward on Florida Sports Betting After Second Lawsuit Filed

Posted on: August 18, 2021, 10:49h. 

Last updated on: August 19, 2021, 11:31h.

Seminole Gaming officials continue to focus on the upcoming launch of statewide sports betting in Florida, a spokesperson told Wednesday. That’s even as two other gaming companies have filed their second federal suit seeking to halt the plan.

Florida sports betting
Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen speaks at a May 2019 event for the then-under construction Hard Rock Hollywood casino. A tribal gaming compact the Seminoles signed with Florida officials and approved by the US Interior Department is now being challenged in two different federal courts. (Image: Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood/Twitter)

On Monday, the Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room filed the second suit in the Washington, DC federal district court. This time, the targets of the lawsuit were US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the Department of the Interior.

The department has oversight authority on tribal gaming issues.

The gaming operators, both owned by Southwest Florida Enterprises, seek a judge to throw out the federal government’s approval of the gaming compact the Seminole Tribe of Florida reached with the state.

They claim the compact is illegal because it allows the Seminoles to operate gaming off tribal lands, which runs counter to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). That 1986 law states Class III gaming, including sports betting, can only take place in the participating tribe’s sovereign territory.

According to the complaint, the compact tries to work around IGRA and the Florida Constitution, which only allows for Class III gaming expansion off tribal lands through a popular vote in a referendum. They cite law language in the compact and the affiliated implementation that deems bets placed anywhere in Florida will be considered to have taken place on a Seminole reservation. That’s as long as the server accepting and processing the wagers is located there.

“By incorporating the terms of IGRA within its own constitution, Florida effectively proscribed its ability to impose state law interpretations on the scope of tribal-state compacts,” the complaint states. “Florida is bound by the federal restrictions of IGRA and cannot ‘deem’ that sports betting occurs on Indian lands when it does not.”

In addition, the plaintiffs note that according to Florida law, sports betting remains illegal for anyone else. That puts them and other gaming operators at a competitive disadvantage.

Seminoles, Florida “Moving Forward”

The Interior Department announced the gaming compact was approved on Aug. 6. At the time, Bryan Newland, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, told Florida and the Seminoles that after a 45-day review, federal officials took no action.

Under federal law, that means the compact is considered approved. But that’s limited “to the extent that the compact is consistent with” IGRA.

As far as the Seminoles are concerned, according to spokesperson Gary Bitner, federal approval gives them the green light.

The Gaming Compact is now in effect,” said Bitner, a spokesperson for both the Seminole Tribe and Seminole Gaming. “It has been agreed to by the Governor and the Seminole Tribe, approved overwhelmingly by the Florida Legislature, and deemed approved by the US Department of the Interior.  It has the support of two-thirds of Floridians.  The State, the Tribe, and Seminole Gaming are moving forward.”

Barring any legal intervention, sports betting should go live in Florida in mid-October.

Seminole Gaming operates seven casinos in the state, including two Hard Rock casinos. Hard Rock International was acquired by the Seminole Tribe in 2007.

Besides the sports betting language, the compact also gives the Seminoles the ability to offer dice and roulette games at the casinos, and it also will allow them to build three more gaming venues on its Hollywood reservation, which is located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

In return for those gaming rights, the Seminoles have agreed to contribute $2.5 billion to the state over the next five years and a total of about $6 billion by 2030. The tribe’s contribution would be reduced if it loses exclusive rights.

The Seminoles also face paying a 2 percent higher share (15.75 percent instead of 13.75 percent) if the tribe cannot secure partnerships with at least three pari-mutuel gaming operators.

Sports Betting Lawsuit Against DeSantis Amended

In addition to filing the new suit in Washington, Magic City and Bonita Springs on Tuesday amended  the lawsuit they originally filed last month in a Florida federal court. That seeks to keep Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Julie Imanuel Brown from implementing the newly approved compact.

The initial lawsuit sought to keep Florida officials from working with the Seminoles to get federal approval on the compact. In addition, they also still seek the removal of all off-reservation sports betting elements.

Besides statewide mobile betting, the compact also includes a “hub-and-spoke” plan to involve pari-mutuel operators, like the plaintiffs, by allowing them to offer retail betting kiosks at their facilities.

Magic City operates a jai-alai fronton and Bonita Springs offers both jai-alai and racing simulcasting.

After the compact was signed by both sides, Magic City said it received a letter from Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen asking if it would be interested in being a part of the sports betting network. As part of the partnership, the pari-mutuels would get 60 percent of the net win its kiosks generate. But that 60-40 split would be determined after the Seminoles already took out a portion for its expenses.

The plaintiffs contend that unless they agree to join as partners, they risk losing customers who bet on races and jai-alai as well as play other games at their venues. Further, they contend that tribal officials have not been willing to work with them to determine how they can accept on-site cash wagers for sportsbooks. Cash betting allows bettors to bet anonymously, but for now, cash sports betting would only be available through the tribal casinos.

“These contracts will be uneconomical, but Southwest Pari-mutuels will have no choice but to enter them to avoid losing further business to other pari-mutuels, in addition to the business that they already will lose to the Tribe’s online sports betting operation,” the Florida lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs aren’t the only ones not sold on the pari-mutuel partnerships. In the decision letter, Newland said federal officials had concerns about the pari-mutuels involvement as well.

With the suit amended as of Tuesday, Jared Williams, the deputy communications director for DeSantis, told on Wednesday that the administration will have 14 days from then to file its response.