Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is fighting for dismissal of a lawsuit that challenges local Seminole Tribe’s claim to sports betting operations within the state.
As federal laws currently read, gambling on tribal land must occur on said land, otherwise the tribes are essentially forfeiting their exclusivity as a protected entity. With the advent of online sports betting, these tribal contingencies are trying to secure a piece of the burgeoning virtual pie.
Non-tribal brick-and-mortar casino operators obviously object, claiming that they already compete on uneven playing field with tribal gambling operations, and that a special exemption for the Seminoles would severely undercut their own business, which operates on public land.
The Seminole Tribe has offered up to 60 percent of the take to the traditional casinos in exchange for marketing the tribe’s own sportsbook. Casinos, obviously, don’t see any use in using someone else’s platform to deliver a product experience that they, themselves, can manage in-house.
The result is a complex lawsuit which will ask a judge to determine the extent to which federal gambling law, specifically Native American law, should be interpreted in a new market like online wagering.
“The 2021 compact will significantly harm plaintiffs’ businesses by introducing online gaming into Florida and granting the tribe the exclusive right to engage in it,” the plaintiffs’ lawsuit said. “As a result, anyone physically located in Florida, including plaintiffs’ customers, will be able to engage in sports betting online with the tribe from their home or from any Florida location where they have access to an internet connection. This approval will therefore have a significant and potentially devastating competitive impact on plaintiffs and the brick-and-mortar businesses who depend for their profits on individuals coming into their businesses to engage in gaming activities.”
The lawsuit, which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, alleges that the sports-betting portion of the compact violates federal laws, including the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, because bets would be placed by people off tribal lands.
“The IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] restricts tribal gaming to ‘Indian lands,’ which are either Indian reservations or lands held in trust by the United States for the benefit of a federally recognized Indian tribe,” the lawsuit said. “Importantly, the IGRA does not authorize tribal gaming outside of Indian lands (unless there is an applicable exception). No exception applies here.”
DeSantis administration attorneys will attempt to dispute that interpretation of the law.
“The main substantive flaw in the complaint is plaintiffs’ contention that gaming activities are strictly bifurcated into what Indian tribes may do on Indian lands and what ‘private entities’ may do on non-Indian lands, with no cross-over between them,” Tuesday’s motion to dismiss said. “In other words, plaintiffs contend that Indian tribes are never permitted to offer gaming activities to patrons who are physically located off their Indian lands. This is not so.”
Why DeSantis has so heavily allied with the Seminole Tribe is unclear and likely multi-faceted. Perhaps it’s the $20 billion that the Seminoles have agreed to pay Florida over the next thirty years. Regardless of motive, battling a state government, especially in a realm as heavily-regulated as gambling, will be a tall task for the independent casino operators.