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More Twists and Turns in Florida’s Attempt to Legalize Sports Betting

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Ja'Markis Weston of the Florida Gators celebrates after scoring a touchdown with Ja'Quavion Fraziars. Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images via AFP.

Bettors in Florida will have to wait a while longer for legal sports betting options after the latest ruling by the US District Court.

It seems to be one step forward and two steps back for the state of Florida with regard to the launch of a legal sports betting platform. Optimism about a potential launch turned to pessimism this week with a federal court ruling that put an end to a negotiated and accepted compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe.

Despite the US Department of the Interior signing off on the negotiated compact, the US District Court for the District of Columbia sided with pari-mutuel operators in Florida. They claimed that the compact was in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). That ruling essentially put an end to the current momentum that sports betting had in the state. It also freezes any development the state had toward launching sports betting this year.

More On the Ruling

Judge Dabney Friedrich said at the beginning of her statement on the ruling that: “The Court will hold that the Compact violates IGRA and grant the West Flagler plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.”

Technically, traditional tribal compacts have stated that all gambling has to take place on tribal lands. With online gaming, it was hoped that having the mobile sports betting servers located on Tribal lands would be enough under the law for residents of the state to be able to place a mobile bet anywhere within Florida state lines.

The Department of the Interior’s compact approval letter said: “The Tribe and State refer to this arrangement as a ‘hub and spoke’ model, where the Tribe’s servers are the hub, and the spokes are the mobile devices and contracted Qualified Pari-mutuel Permitholders facilities where the wagers originate.” That wording is what the judge, in this case, took exception with.

Simply put, the judge has ruled that having servers located on Tribal lands is not enough. Bettors, under compact rules, must physically be on tribal lands according to the judge’s findings.

Legal sports betting will not go forward unless proponents in the state win an appeal or are granted a stay of the order. Appeals are already underway from the Seminole Tribe in Florida.

What Is On the Line

Florida boasts the third-largest population in the country (21.5 million) and hosts an estimated 120 million tourists per year. Florida is home to three NFL teams, two MLB franchises, two NBA teams, and two NHL franchises which includes the 2021 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. All will benefit from the right to place a legal sports wager.

Revenues and jobs are on the line for Floridians. 2,200 jobs could result from a legal sports betting platform. Revenues will include $2.5 billion from the Seminoles to the State within the next five years. An estimated $500 million to $600 million per year could eventually be generated for the state from the launch of a legal sports betting platform.

The Future

Judge Dabney Friedrich didn’t close the door on the possibility of legal sports betting for Florida. However, she did put the brakes on it operating under its current proposed structure.

“The State and the Tribe may agree to a new compact … that allows online gaming solely on Indian lands,” the judge wrote. “Because the most recent compact is no longer in effect, continuing to offer online sports betting would violate federal law.”

It remains to be seen just how the court decision will affect the Seminoles. They had quietly launched their Hard Rock Sportsbook app on November 1 and were in the process of taking bets statewide when the court decision was rendered. As mentioned, they have already filed an appeal to the ruling.

The tribe has five pari-mutuals in place already in anticipation of a positive decision. For now, those contracts are on hold along with any legal sports betting aspirations for Floridians.

SEE ALSO: Michigan Sets Sports Betting Record in October

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