Feds approve Florida-Seminole gaming compact

By John Haughey
The Center Square
August 8, 2021


The guitar shaped hotel at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on in Hollywood, Fla.

The federal government has given the green light to the Florida-Seminole gaming compact’s “hub-and-spoke” model, meaning sports gambling will be legal in the Sunshine State beginning Oct. 15.

Just don’t bet on it; lawsuits await.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) released a 12-page letter from U.S. Department of Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, stating the agency was taking no action, essentially granting approval by default.

“As a result,” Newland wrote last week, “the compact is considered to have been approved by operation of law to the extent that it complies with [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] and existing federal law.”

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.

After three years of negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the pact was approved by lawmakers May 19 and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 25.

The 30-year deal grants the Seminoles exclusive control of blackjack, craps, online fantasy and sports betting at its seven casinos and at 27 nontribal pari-mutuels via its Hard Rock Digital platform. In exchange, the Seminoles will pay Florida at least $500 million annually over the pact’s first five years.

Securing the BIA’s nod was uncertain because the pact features a new “hub-and-spoke” partnership between remote servers on tribal lands and pari-mutuel operators. Under the pact, regardless where a person makes a wager, it’s not a transaction, therefore not a bet, until processed by servers on tribal land.

Proponents say the compact allows the state to capitalize on the $7 billion in mobile sports bets illegally placed by Floridians in 2020, according to the American Gaming Association.

“The final approval of this historic gaming compact is a big deal for the State of Florida,” DeSantis said in a statement. “This mutually-beneficial agreement will grow our economy, expand tourism and recreation and provide billions in new revenue to benefit Floridians.”

“Today is a great day for the people of Florida, who will benefit not only from a $2.5 billion revenue-sharing guarantee over five years, but also from statewide sports betting and new casino games that will roll out this fall and mean more jobs for Floridians and more money invested in this state,” Seminole Tribe of Florida Chair Marcellus Osceola Jr. said.

At least one lawsuit has been filed challenging the pact, and an anti-gambling group is poised to file additional legal action.

In a lawsuit filed July 2, West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. – owners of Miami’s Magic City Casino – claim the model is based on “legal fiction” and could cost pari-mutuel operators “millions in revenue.”

No Casinos, which has stymied casino gambling in Florida since 1978 and counts former Gov. Jeb Bush among members, claims the pact violates 2018’s Amendment 3.

No Casinos raised $45 million in contributions – much from Disney and, coincidentally, the Seminoles – to spearhead a three-year campaign to adopt the amendment, which requires gaming expansion be approved by voters.

“We are deeply disappointed the Department of Interior took no action,” No Casinos President John Sowinski said in a statement, adding it will follow through with its threatened lawsuit.

The approval “does not change the fact that this compact violates multiple federal laws as well as the Florida Constitution,” Sowinski said. “The 2018 constitutional mandate of 72% of Florida voters could not be clearer. Only Florida voters, not politicians in Tallahassee or Washington, have the power to expand gambling in Florida. This issue will have its day in both state and federal courts, where we are confident that this compact will be overturned.”