TALLAHASSEE --- A federal judge late Wednesday refused to put on hold a ruling that rejected 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 for a stay of a Monday ruling in which Friedrich said the deal violated federal law. The tribe requested the stay as it appeals the Monday ruling.
In denying the stay, Friedrich wrote, in part, that a stay during an appeal is an “extraordinary remedy” and that the tribe did not meet legal tests to justify it. Among other things, she wrote that the tribe “has not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” and that it “has failed to show that this court’s decision will cause it irreparable harm.”
The tribe received control of sports betting as part of an agreement, known as a compact, that was signed this spring by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola, Jr. and approved by the Legislature during a May special session. The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees Indian gambling issues, signed off on the deal in August.
But owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida, two longtime pari-mutuel facilities, filed a lawsuit against U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and her agency alleging that the sports-betting plan violated a federal law known as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That law, commonly known as IGRA, creates a framework for gambling activity on tribal lands.
Friedrich’s Monday ruling centered on gamblers being able to place sports bets online from across the state, with the wagers run through computer servers on tribal property. She said that violated federal law because bets would be placed off tribal property.
“Altogether, over a dozen provisions in IGRA regulate gaming on ‘Indian lands,’ and none regulate gaming in another location,” the Washington, D.C. judge wrote. “It is equally clear that the (Interior Department) secretary must reject compacts that violate IGRA’s terms.”
Although the compact deems sports betting to occur at the location of the tribe’s servers, “this court cannot accept that fiction,” Friedrich wrote.
The tribe quickly filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and filed a motion for Friedrich to place a stay on her ruling. The tribe started offering online sports betting this month and pointed to the “public interest” in seeking a stay.
“The 2021 compact was approved by the governor of Florida, the Florida Legislature, and the Department (of the Interior),” the motion said. “The public interest weighs in favor of preserving the status quo, which is to allow an ongoing activity that was approved under federal, state, and tribal law to continue pending the outcome of the tribe’s appeal.”
Under the 30-year compact, the Seminoles agreed to pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years in exchange for controlling sports betting and being allowed to add craps and roulette to the tribe’s casino operations. The motion for a 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 permitted to operate under the 2021 compact, the state would lose tens of millions per month in revenue sharing, and the associated jobs could be lost,” the motion for a stay said. “The tribe, the state, and the public would suffer serious economic and employment consequences.”
But in her denial of the motion, Friedrich wrote that the “state, the tribe, and the secretary can mitigate the effects of this court’s decision by approving a new, lawful compact in short order. And finally, the court’s decision did not foreclose other avenues for authorizing online sports betting in Florida, including a citizen’s initiative. Those avenues cut against considering the general costs and benefits of online sports betting in this posture.”
After Friedrich’s initial ruling, the tribe’s Hard Rock app was still accepting wagers Tuesday.