Judge denies staying in Florida sports betting decision

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A federal judge on Wednesday night refused to stay a ruling rejecting a deal giving the Seminole tribe control of online sports betting in Florida.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich issued a five-page order that denied a request by the tribe to stay a Monday ruling in which Friedrich said the deal violated federal law. The tribe asked for the reprieve as they are appealing Monday’s decision.

In denying the suspension, Friedrich wrote, in part, that a suspension pending appeal is an “extraordinary remedy” and that the tribe has failed the legal tests to warrant it. Among other things, she wrote that the tribe “has failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” and that it “has failed to demonstrate that this tribunal’s decision will cause it irreparable harm.”

The tribe was given control of sports betting as part of an agreement, known as the pact, that was signed this spring by Governor Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida president Marcellus Osceola, Jr. and approved by the Legislative Assembly in a special session in May. The US Department of the Interior, which oversees Indian gambling issues, signed the deal in August.

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But the owners of the Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and the Bonita Springs Poker Room in southwest Florida, two longtime pari-mutuel facilities, have filed a lawsuit against the department’s secretary. Interior American Deb Haaland and her agency alleging that the sports betting plan violated a federal law known as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. This law, commonly referred to as IGRA, creates a framework for gambling activities on tribal lands.

Friedrich’s decision on Monday centered on the ability for players to place statewide sports bets online, with bets handled by computer servers on tribal property. She said it violated federal law because bets would be placed off tribal property.

“In total, more than a dozen IGRA provisions regulate gambling on ‘Indian Lands,’ and none regulate gambling in any other location,” the Washington, DC judge wrote. “It is also clear that the Secretary (of the Home Office) must reject covenants that violate the terms of the IGRA.”

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Although the pact considers sports betting to take place at the location of the tribe’s servers, “this court cannot accept this fiction,” Friedrich wrote.

The tribe promptly filed a notice of appeal with the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and filed a motion to have Friedrich stay its decision. The tribe began offering online sports betting this month and highlighted the “public interest” in requesting a stay.

“The 2021 pact has been approved by the Governor of Florida, the Florida Legislature and the Department (of the Interior),” the motion reads. “The public interest weighs in favor of preserving the status quo, which is to allow ongoing activity approved by federal, state, and tribal law to continue pending the outcome of the tribe’s appeal.”

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As part of the 30-year pact, the Seminoles agreed to pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years in exchange for control of sports betting and permission to add craps and roulette to the tribe’s casino operations. The motion to stay said the tribe paid $37.5 million to the state in October and another $37.5 million in November.

“If the tribe is not allowed to operate under the 2021 pact, the state would lose tens of millions a month in revenue sharing, and associated jobs could be lost,” the stay motion says. “The tribe, the state and the public would suffer serious economic and employment consequences.”

But in his denial of the motion, Friedrich wrote that “the state, tribe, and secretary can lessen the effects of this court’s decision by approving a new legal compact in a short time. And finally, the court’s decision did not rule out other avenues for allowing online sports betting in Florida, including a citizens’ initiative. These avenues run counter to considering the general costs and benefits of online sports betting in this posture.

After Friedrich’s initial decision, the tribe’s Hard Rock app was still accepting bets on Tuesday.


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