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Federal Court Overturns Ruling Blocking Sports Betting In Florida

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A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the the District of Columbia on Friday released its decision in the Florida sports betting case pitting two parimutuels against the U.S. Department of the Interior, saying that the Seminole Tribe should be able to offer legal digital wagering in the state. Legal experts previously told Sports Handle that whatever the decision by the court, it would likely be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case is being watched closely by tribes across the country, as a decision that would allow the Seminoles a monopoly would change the situation for tribes in every state.

The decision is the latest twist in a situation that started in May 2021, when the Florida state legislature approved a compact with the Seminoles that would allow the tribe to offer digital sports betting throughout Florida as long as every bet flows through a server on Seminole land. The parimutuels argued that the compact violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which governs only gambling that happens on tribal lands. Written in the 1980s, IGRA does not appear to address digital wagering.

How we got here

After the legislature approved the compact, it was sent to the DOI for approval, but rather than sign off on it, Secretary Deb Haaland allowed the compact to become “deemed approved” after a 45-day waiting period. Multiple lawsuits were then filed, but the Seminoles launched their Hard Rock Digital platform ahead of a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in November 2021. It was available for 34 days before two courts demanded it be taken down.

While West Flagler Associates will likely appeal, the immediate question is whether or not the Seminoles will try to relaunch the platform.

At the district court level, judge Dabney Freidrich ruled the compact was illegal, and the DOI appealed to the appeals court. The appeals court heard oral arguments last December, and has been considering the case since.

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