Justice Department Wants Seminole Compact Reinstated

Last fall, a federal judge nullified the gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida (l.) that would have given the tribe statewide control over sports betting. Now the Biden Administration wants the compact reinstated. The result is a mess.

The Biden administration has urged an appeals court to reinstate Florida’s 30-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which gave the tribe control of sports betting throughout the state.

The deal was signed last year by Governor Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr., and ratified by the state legislature in a special session last year. But the owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room filed a lawsuit claiming the sports betting arrangement violated federal laws and would cause a “significant and potentially devastating” impact on their businesses.

The sports betting plan, known as “hub-and-spoke,” would allow gamblers throughout the state to place bets online and be processed through computer servers on Seminole property. The compact stated bets made anywhere in Florida “using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.”

Last November, Washington, D.C.-based U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled the arrangement violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. In addition, Friedrich invalidated other parts of the compact, noting Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was wrong to let the compact take effect last summer.

In their recent motion to the appeals court to reinstate the compact, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers, representing Haaland, said Friedrich was mistaken, since the compact only authorized gambling on tribal lands and Haaland was obligated to allow it to go into effect.

In a 75-page brief, DOJ attorneys wrote, “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.”

In a separate brief, tribal attorneys said the Seminoles have “a broad and particular interest in maintaining the 2021 compact, which is critical to the resolution of continuing discord between the tribe and parimutuel facilities, and to healing the long-standing rift between the tribe and the state.”

Besides giving the Seminoles control over sports betting, the compact allowed the tribe to offer craps and roulette at its casinos and to add three casinos on tribal property in Broward County. In exchange, the tribe would pay the state a minimum of $2.5 billion over the first five years and possibly billions more over three decades.

Last fall, the Seminoles briefly launched a mobile sports-betting app but stopped accepting online bets following Friedrich’s ruling. While the app was operational, from October 2021 through February 2022, Florida received $187.5 million, according to state economists.