By John Haughey
The Center Square
September 27, 2021
Under the Florida-Seminole Tribe gaming compact signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and approved by lawmakers in May, mobile online sports wagering becomes officially legal in the Sunshine State on Oct. 15.
But after two Florida pari-mutuels filed a motion in federal court late Tuesday to block the sports wagering component of the 30-year gaming deal from being implemented, don’t bet on it.
Considering the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., has scheduled a Nov. 5 hearing on the 45-page motion, and the Seminole Tribe has acknowledged in court documents its digital platform won’t be ready until Nov. 15, odds are slim for an Oct. 15 rollout.
West Flagler Associates, which owns Miami’s Magic City Casino, and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., operators of Bonita Springs Poker Room, in July filed a 67-page lawsuit in the U.S. Northern District Court of Florida, alleging the compact violates federal law and seeking an injunction to prevent sports gaming from being legal on Oct. 15.
After the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approved the compact on Aug. 5, the plaintiffs filed a similar 43-page suit in D.C. District Court, claiming the “hub-and-spoke” system violates federal and state laws.
After two years of negotiations, the 75-page gambling compact was approved by lawmakers on May 19 and signed by DeSantis on May 25.
The compact makes Florida the 22nd state to legalize sports betting since the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law banning commercial sports betting in 2018’s Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Under the pact, in addition to exclusive control of blackjack, craps, online fantasy gaming, the Seminoles also control all sports betting at its seven casinos and on non-tribal pari-mutuels via its Hard Rock Digital platform using a “hub and spoke” system in which gamblers anywhere in the state can place online bets via servers on tribal property.
Under the compact, bets made “using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the Tribe.”
In exchange, the Seminoles will pay Florida at least $500 million annually, or a minimum of $2.5 billion, over the pact’s first five years.
The focus of contention is the “hub-and-spoke” system. Florida lawmakers and the BIA determined a server on tribal land meets stipulations in federal and state laws that gambling may only take place on tribal lands. Plaintiffs argue that is “legal fiction.”
West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. want the compact tossed and a new deal crafted that doesn’t grant the Tribe a Florida sports gaming monopoly.
An anti-gaming coalition is also threatening to sue the state for violating Amendment 3, a 2018 constitutional amendment that requires voter approval of gambling expansions
“Only Florida voters, not politicians in Tallahassee or Washington, have the power to expand gambling in Florida,” No Casinos President John Sowinski said last month. “This issue will have its day in both state and federal courts, where we are confident this compact will be overturned.”
The American Gaming Association estimates Floridians already spend $7 billion a year on mobile sports bets.
DraftKings and FanDuel, two of the world’s largest online sportsbooks, believe they can convince Floridians to “capture” untaxed gaming revenues for the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund in compliance with Amendment 3.
The two have each invested $10 million to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2022 ballot to expand sports gambling beyond the Seminoles to “ensure Florida shares in the sports wagering revenue currently going entirely to the offshore, illegal market,’ FanDuel Vice President of Government Affairs Cory Fox said.
According to the Division of Elections (DOE), the petition Thursday had 18,363 of 891,589 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.