The U.S. Department of the Interior is calling on a federal appeals court to deny a rehearing in the case about approving a 2021 gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe and Florida, a deal that allowed the tribe to offer online Florida sports betting. The federal agency and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland filed a response Thursday in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to a request made by two Florida gaming operators challenging the compact, which Haaland’s department approved two years ago.
West Flagler Associates, which does business as Magic City Casino, and the Bonita Springs Poker Room won a federal district court order in November 2021 to toss out the compact. However, a three-judge panel by the D.C. federal circuit issued an opinion two months ago overturning that ruling. On Aug. 14, the plaintiffs in the case filed for a rehearing before all 11 active judges, arguing the judges erred in their June 30 opinion when they said gaming compacts can include verbiage on matters outside the purview of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Interior Claims ‘Rehearing Is Unwarranted’
In its 25-page filing Thursday, the Interior Department said that a “rehearing is unwarranted” because Haaland “has no control over what gaming Florida permits on non-Indian lands within its borders.”
The government added that the federal court is not the right venue for challenging what is a state issue.
“The opinion makes clear that, as a matter of law, the Compact does not render lawful any wagering outside Indian land, and West Flagler remains free to bring a challenge to the Florida statute that does authorize that wagering,” the Interior’s response stated. “…Instead, West Flagler admits its real concern is that any state-court challenge may fail because the state constitution’s voter-referendum requirement has a carveout for ‘casino gambling on tribal lands,’ and the compact deems the wagers to occur on Indian lands.”
It’s uncertain when the circuit court may rule on the request for a rehearing. Regardless of that outcome, many in the gaming industry tracking the case believe it will ultimately go before the U.S. Supreme Court.
About The Gaming Compact
The gaming compact that Seminole leaders and the DeSantis Administration reached two years ago authorized sports betting at land-based casinos on tribal land and online statewide. The servers processing the online wagers would be located on tribal land.
In addition, the state required the tribe to work with a network of parimutuel gaming operators and allow them to offer sports betting at their establishments. The tribe would receive 40% of the proceeds from the parimutuel operators.
Seminole Gaming did launch its online Hard Rock Florida Sportsbook in November 2021, and the app was active when U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled for West Flagler. The app was eventually taken offline in Florida after the tribe could not win a stay on Friedrich’s order.
Besides sports betting, the compact allows the Seminoles to offer roulette and dice-based table games at its Florida casinos and build up to three new Class III casinos on tribal land in South Florida.
The compact is expected to provide Florida billions of dollars in revenue from casinos and sports betting.