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Federal judge voids Seminole online gaming pact

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. signed the...
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. signed the gambling deal in April.(News Service of Florida)
Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 10:23 AM EST
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWSB) - A federal judge has derailed a $2.5 billion deal Gov. Ron DeSantis negotiated earlier this year that would allow gamblers throughout the state to use mobile devices to place sports bets that are run through computer servers on Seminole tribal property.

Late Monday, U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich ruled the U.S. Department of the Interior’s approval of the deal the sports betting plan violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by not confining gambling activity to tribal property.

Owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida filed a lawsuit challenging the federal agency’s decision to allow the compact.

The key issue in the lawsuit is whether the Gaming Act, known as IGRA, allows the Seminoles to accept bets that are placed off tribe-owned property.

In her decision, Friedrich said the reasoning that online betting occurs not where patrons actually place the bets, “but instead at the location of the Tribe’s sportsbook and servers,” is flawed. “...’Gaming activity’ in IGRA describes ‘the stuff involved in playing class III games,’ not the administrative actions that support them,” she wrote.

Quoting a similar decision in Michigan, “Because the Compact authorizes patrons to wager off Indian lands, and because those bets clearly qualify as ‘gaming’ ... makes clear that the instant Compact authorizes gaming off Indian lands.”

At a news conference Tuesday morning in Fort Lauderdale, DeSantis said the court’s decision wasn’t a total surprise. “We anticipated that could happen,” saying it was an “unsettled legal issue.” He criticized the Interior Department for presenting a weak argument at the federal hearing. “They weren’t prepared,” he said.

DeSantis also said he expected the decision to be appealed.

Under the 30-year compact, the Seminoles had agreed to pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years in exchange for having control over sports betting throughout Florida and being allowed to add craps and roulette to the tribe’s casino operations. The tribe launched sports betting Nov. 1.

The Florida Legislature passed the law approving the deal during a May special session. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland allowed the compact to take effect in August.

-- Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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