Interior Officials State Case for Appeal in Florida Sports Betting Lawsuit

Interior Officials State Case for Appeal in Florida Sports Betting Lawsuit

Posted on: February 10, 2022, 04:56h. 

Last updated on: February 10, 2022, 12:22h.

Steve Bittenbender

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The US Department of the Interior and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland filed a statement in federal court Wednesday detailing why they’re appealing a judge’s ruling that rejected the amended gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and state officials that gave the tribe exclusive rights to sports betting in the Sunshine State.

Interior Dept
A sign outside the Department of the Interior’s headquarters in Washington, DC. On Wednesday, the federal agency and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland explained why they’re appealing a US district judge’s ruling in a case involving a gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and state leaders in Florida. (Image: Brent McKee/LivingNewDeal.org)

The three-page filing was submitted in the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia two weeks after the government served notice that it would appeal US District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s order from Nov. 22.

In August, two pari-mutuel operators in Florida filed a lawsuit against the US government. They claimed federal officials should not have allowed the gaming compact to be deemed as approved.

Under federal law, the government had 45 days to review the compact and decide to approve it. However, government officials did not act within 45 days. According to federal statutes, that meant the multi-billion deal between the Seminole Tribe and Florida was considered approved to the extent it complied with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Here, the agency took no action for 45 days and, consistent with the statute, subsequently filed notice in the Federal Register that the compact had gone into effect,” wrote Rachel Heron, a US Justice Department attorney representing the Interior Department.

Friedrich ruled that the provisions allowing the tribe to offer online sports betting across Florida violated the federal law because IGRA limits gaming activity to tribal lands.

Seminole Tribe Also Appealing in Case

Haaland and the Interior Department told the circuit court that they want the panel to determine if Friedrich made a mistake in not granting their motion for a dismissal in the case. They also want the court to consider if she erred when she said the government should not have approved the gaming compact. Finally, they want the judges to consider if Friedrich abused her authority in making her decision.

Shortly after Friedrich rendered her decision, the Seminole Tribe filed an appeal. The tribe was not an official party in the case, but they sought unsuccessfully to intervene in US district court.

Tribal leaders say they have a vested economic interest at stake in the case and that only they can properly make that argument.

When Friedrich voided the amended gaming compact, it not only ended the Seminole Tribe’s sports betting operation, it also ended the deal where the tribe committed to pay the state $2.5 billion over the first five years of the agreement. Besides getting rights to mobile and retail sports betting, the Seminole Tribe also received rights to offer roulette and dice-based table games at its casinos in the state.

The Seminole Tribe suspended its Hard Rock Sportsbook operations in Florida more than two months ago after it failed to win a stay on Friedrich’s ruling. The ruling did not affect all Seminole gaming in the state as that had been approved by an earlier compact.

What’s at Stake?

The case serves as an important one for tribal gaming interests across the country. Whatever decision is ultimately reached by the courts will likely have ramifications for other states where tribal nations offer gaming. That includes such states as Oklahoma, New Mexico, and even California.

Whatever outcome comes from the US Circuit Court of Appeals, it’s almost certain that the losing side in the appeals court will ask the Supreme Court to review that decision as well.

Chances are, this is a case that may not get settled for months, if not longer.

That’s probably not the news sports bettors in Florida want to hear, especially since a petition drive to get a sports betting measure on the November ballot failed to get enough signatures. That means the earliest voters could decide the issue would be in November 2024.