US Interior Department Urges Federal Court to Reinstate Seminole Gaming Compact
The US Interior Department has asked a federal appeals court to dismiss a legal challenge. The complaint is against the 2021 expanded Class III gaming compact the Seminole Tribe of Florida reached with Governor Ron DeSantis (R).
In what is a rare incident of President Joe Biden’s administration aligning with DeSantis — who is becoming increasingly likely to challenge for president in two years — the Department of the Interior (DOI) says efforts to overthrow the Seminole compact it reached with the Republican governor are unwarranted.
It was April 2021 when DeSantis and the powerful tribe agreed to a new gaming revenue-sharing agreement. That pact included expanding the Seminoles’ permitted games to include sports betting at its six Sunshine State and online casinos.
Owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Lee County filed suit against the DOI for approving the compact. It was based on grounds that the online sports betting component would violate federal Indian gaming rules that require Class III gaming to only operate on a tribe’s sovereign land. DeSantis and the tribe argued that since the online sportsbook computer servers would be located on the Seminole’s property, the mobile sports betting allowance would not violate the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
In November, US District Judge Dabney Friedrich agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered the Seminoles to halt their in-person and mobile sports betting operations. The Seminoles subsequently appealed the Friedrich decision to the federal appeals court.
Interior Backs Tribe
The Interior Department filed a brief in anticipation of the federal court hearing in support of the Seminole Tribe and Florida. Attorneys wrote the brief from the US Department of Justice.
They contend that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who allowed the compact to go into effect last summer, properly approved the tribal-state agreement.
The secretary has no duty — nor even any authority — to disapprove a compact that validly authorizes gaming on Indian lands simply because the compact also contemplates that the state will enact legislation permitting persons outside Indian lands to participate in that gaming,” the 75-page Interior brief read.
“The legality of any non-Indian land activities discussed in a compact is instead a matter of state law,” the brief continued. “If the courts ultimately decide that those activities are not authorized by state law, then those activities will not be permitted, regardless of what the compact contemplates.”
In exchange for sports betting and new casino table games, the Seminoles pledged to direct at least $2.5 billion to the state over the next five years. But after Friedrich issued an injunction on the 2021 compact, the tribe suspended its revenue-sharing payments.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is handling the legal challenge. The court has set a November 14 deadline for reply briefs to be filed by the involved parties.
Along with the DOI’s submitted opinion, attorneys representing Magic City and Bonita Springs Poker Room filed briefs. They maintain their argument that allowing the Seminoles to offer remote gambling over the internet unlawfully hurts their gaming venues by placing them at a competitive disadvantage.
The plaintiffs summarized that online sports betting without being included would cause a “significant and potentially devastating” impact on their businesses.
No date has yet been set for oral arguments.
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