It was a busy week for brief filings in the Florida sports betting case.
And here’s something you can’t say very often: The Biden Administration is supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Well, on one thing anyway.
U.S. Department of Justice lawyers argued last week that Donald Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich was wrong in ruling last November against DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida compact that expanded Florida gaming. The DOJ called for the compact to be reinstated.
Friedrich ruled that the expansion of mobile gaming off tribal lands was not allowed by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Friedrich also said that Biden’s Interior Secretary Deb Haaland should not have okayed the deal.
“The secretary has no duty — nor even any authority — to disapprove a compact that validly authorizes gaming on Indian lands simply because the compact also contemplates that the state will enact legislation permitting persons outside Indian lands to participate in that gaming,” Interior Department lawyers argued.
The National Indian Gaming Association, the Arizona Indiana Gaming Association, the California Indian Gaming Association and United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund last week filed an amicus brief supporting the appeal.
Also last week, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a 32-page brief at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia saying that Friedrich erred and called for the compact to be reinstated.
The state argued that compact did not authorize online sports betting throughout Florida, saying “to the contrary, Florida state law independently authorizes such betting included in the compact, and whether that state law comports with Florida’s Constitution does not control whether the secretary’s deemed approval was lawful,” according to a News Service of Florida story.
Remember, the Florida sports betting case will likely go into 2023.
Florida Lawmakers Approved Compact
Last year the Florida legislature approved a compact signed by DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe to allow for legal sports betting in the state on tribal land — and mobile wagering throughout the state that would be run through computer servers on tribal land.
In return for the exclusivity and the OK to build three additional casinos, the Seminoles promised payments of at least $2.5 billion over five years and billions more over the remaining 25 years of the deal.
In what we’re sure was just a coincidence, the Seminole tribe recently donated $1 million to DeSantis’s political fund.
The state attorney’s brief said that “the 2021 compact provides enormous economic benefits to both the state of Florida and the tribe. And that compact is lawful,” according to the News Service of Florida.
After news of the Seminole compact got out, owners of Miami’s Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room sued to block the deal, the Tampa Bay Times reported at the time, alleging that the sports-betting plan would greatly harm their businesses and it also violated federal laws.
A Complicated Issue
As with tribal gaming legislation in many states, the issue is somewhat complicated, which forced even the Justice Department to amend its argument. What they’re saying now basically is that the Interior Secretary only has the power to rule on tribal land activities based on the IGRA. Anything gaming related happening off the reservation on state land is to be decided by Florida law.
“If the courts ultimately decide that those activities are not authorized by state law, then those activities will not be permitted, regardless of what the compact contemplates,” the Interior Department’s brief said.
Daniel Wallach, an attorney who specializes in gambling and other regulatory issues, blasted this new argument, telling the News Service of Florida last Thursday that the compact “expressly authorized” online sports betting throughout the state.
Then there’s the additional issue of the 2018 constitutional amendment that requires statewide voter approval of gambling expansion in Florida.
Bottom line: Florida is going to need some adults in the room to sort this all out.