Federal Lawyers Ask Appeals Court to Reverse Florida Sports Betting Decision

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jan 8, 2023 07:00 PM
Federal Lawyers Ask Appeals Court to Reverse Florida Sports Betting Decision

At long last, the battle over Florida sports betting appears headed for a decision.

After months of hemming and hawing, arguments are finally being heard by a Federal appeals court over the future of legal sports betting throughout Florida. Though no decision is imminent, and no outcome is guaranteed, the mere beginning of these proceedings constitutes progress. Previously, the matter had stopped and stalled at every level it passed through.

At the start of 2023, however, a Florida appeals court began listening to cases on both sides of the fence. And as expected, federal lawyers representing the state government seized this opportunity to deliver a concrete request: They asked the appeals court to reverse a 2021 Florida sports betting decision that overturned a legal sports gambling compact with the Seminole tribe.

Whether the court rules in favor of the Seminole tribe and the Florida government remains to be seen. This appeals process is ongoing and expected to take some time. In recent months, though, there has been a groundswell of support for re-installing the preexisting gaming compact. And no matter what side of the argument you might land on, the end result is going to have massive implications for the future of Florida sports betting.

How Did Florida Sports Betting Get Here?

For anyone who has not been following the Florida sports betting saga, it all started a few years ago. Governor Ron DeSantis agreed to a gaming compact with the Seminole tribe that gave them exclusive sports betting rights inside the state. Under these terms, gambling was legalized on Seminole tribal properties...and nowhere else. This left other tribes and commercial sportsbooks looking to crack the Sunshine State market out in the cold.

And yet, the implementation of sports betting still went off without a hitch. Lobbyists and rival tribes opposed the gaming compact, but they didn't take drastic measures to stymie it. Then, soon after, everything changed. Opposing parties took major exceptions when the Seminole tribe rolled out a mobile sportsbook app that allowed users to place wagers off the property

This was viewed as a breach of contract by other parties with vested interests in Florida's gaming industry. The Seminole tribe, meanwhile, argued that their mobile app was technically a form of tribal property—and therefore didn't violate anything. 

That stance ended up failing. A federal judge ruled against the Seminole tribe towards the end of 2021. Ever since then, sports betting has been removed from Florida and held up in litigation.

Factors That Will Determine the 2023 Florida Sports Betting Decision

As Florida sports bettors eagerly await the decision of the appeals court, it's important to remember there's more than one issue at hand. Judges won't simply be deciding whether the Seminoles violated the gaming compact with their use of a mobile betting app. They will also be determining whether the state was allowed to negotiate and approve that initial gaming compact at all.

Mary Ellen Klas laid it all out in a fantastically thorough piece for the Miami Herald earlier this month:

"At issue is whether Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, whose agency oversees tribal gambling, acted within her authority under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA when she took no action last year and let the gambling agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis take effect. IGRA is the federal law that regulates gambling on Indian lands.

"To get around a constitutional amendment that prohibits the expansion of gambling outside of tribal land without voter approval, the agreement — known as the gaming compact — requires the tribe to operate a so-called hub-and-spoke model for sports betting. The process moves all online sports bets from players located outside of tribal lands through the tribe’s servers."

This last factor may be the biggest one of all. For the most part, the fate of legal sports betting in the United States has been determined by a popular vote during a major election. Just think back to all the legal gambling initiatives that appeared on the November 2022 ballots. Florida never went through that process. And if the appeals court rules that are the greater issue more than anything else, it will have a bunch of ripple effects on the state's future gaming policies.

What Happens if the Seminole Tribe Loses?

To put it simply, if Florida sports betting is going to return anytime soon, the local government's gaming compact with the Seminole tribe must be re-instituted.

If it's not, well, buckle up.

Let's say the appeals court rules against the Florida sports betting gaming compact with the Seminole tribe and decides any legalization moving forward must be put to a statewide vote. In this scenario, the earliest Florida could reasonably green light sports betting would be at the end of 2024 when the next round of major elections takes place. And that's assuming the House and Senate are able to collectively approve at least one proposal for that year's ballot.

From there, the state would also have to go through the rollout process all over again. The waiting period for this will be even longer if they're prepping for multiple tribes to offer sports betting. The process will be even longer still if online sportsbooks are part of the equation.

Fortunately, Floridians are not without alternative options. Plenty of sites from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks allow anyone in the United States to set up and service an account. And it absolutely worth exploring this route. Because, if we're being honest, legal Florida sports betting could feasibly still be years away.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs:

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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