As the fight to legalize sports betting in Florida soldiers onward, the Seminole Tribe continues to reiterate their support of the 30-year gaming compact they signed with the state that was repealed this past winter.
This latest bit of news comes as no surprise for anyone who has followed the Florida sports betting saga over the past few months. But it is nevertheless a blow if you were hoping the state and the Seminole Tribe could reach a compromise or happy middle ground with the opposing side of their gaming compact.
Make no mistake, agendas and stances can always change. Maybe the Seminole Tribe becomes more open to sharing the Florida sports betting market with other tribal-operated casinos and commercial online sportsbooks. Even if they do, any compromise still needs the state's approval. And it's not clear whether they will budge from the initial sports betting model that was available to residents in The Sunshine State for a short time.
Yet, even envisioning a willingness to compromise is difficult at this point. The Seminole Tribe has remained resolute in their sports betting stance, which is why many believe the Florida sports betting dispute will eventually reach the Supreme Court. Regardless, the longer this disagreement between the Seminole Tribe and state and the former's prospective competition drags on, the less likely it is that Florida gets legal sports betting anytime soon.
Why is The Seminole Tribe Holding Firm on Florida's Initial Sports Betting Agreement?
Many have derided the Seminole Tribe (and also the state of Florida itself) for insisting the original terms of their gaming compact be upheld. Really, though, they have every right to be this bullish on their agreement.
The Seminoles and the state of Florida, led by the perpetually bumbling governor Ron DeSantis, reached terms on a 30-year gaming compact that assured the tribe had exclusive rights to sports betting in The Sunshine State. Under the terms of this agreement, residents of Florida were only permitted to bet on sports inside a casino operated by the Seminole Tribe. Other tribal-operated casinos were excluded from the compact, as were commercially operated online sportsbooks.
Plenty of people bristled at this gaming compact the moment it was signed. Though the Seminole Tribe and the state pointed out it guaranteed that legal Florida sports betting revenue would be funneled back inside the state through taxes and job creation, critics continuously pushed back against what they deemed was an outmoded model.
As is often the case with these matters, both sides had valid arguments. The Seminole Tribe was correct in noting that commercially operated online sportsbooks would only pay their licensing fees and requisite taxes without creating jobs inside Florida. However, opponents were also correct in pointing out that limiting legal sports betting in Florida to only brick-and-mortar establishments inherently capped the state's tax revenue. Remember: The overwhelming majority of legal sports bets are placed online nowadays. Florida's gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe didn't allow for them to collect revenue from such wagers.
The Seminole Tribe May Come Out Ahead on Florida's Sports Betting Issue
At this moment, a ruling on the fight for Florida sports betting isn't expected to come anytime soon. It is being reviewed in Washington, D.C., and there's a pretty good chance it gets elevated to the Supreme Court.
However, the Seminole Tribe picked up a big-time win when the U.S. Department of the Interior filed a brief at the end of August asking the court to dismiss the ruling that repealed casino sports betting. Here's the most interesting snippet from that brief, which we pulled from FloridaPolitics.com:
“The legality of any non-Indian land activities discussed in a compact is instead a matter of state law: If the state 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. But the secretary [of the Interior] has no duty to predict what the state courts will say about those non-Indian lands activities when deciding whether to approve the compact in the first place.”
This framing is important. Never mind the support the Seminole Tribe is getting from the Department of the Interior. The United States ruled back in 2018 that the legality of sports betting, in all its forms, would be left up to each individual state. If Florida wishes to give the Seminole Tribe exclusivity of their sports betting marketing while disallowing the use of online sportsbooks, that decision seems to be well within their rights.
It only helps the Seminole Tribe that Florida's setup isn't entirely unique. They are far from the only state to legalize sports betting without including provisions for online sportsbooks.
The Future of Sports Betting in Florida
Despite everything the Seminole Tribe has going for them in this legal battle, the outcome is far from pre-determined. The proposed sports betting model in Florida may not be totally unique, but the exclusivity the Seminoles hold over the sports betting industry would be. Other states without online sports betting have at the very least allowed card rooms and various other tribal-operated casinos the opportunity to apply for sports gambling licenses. This may very well be the saving grace for rival Tribes in Florida.
Granted, all of this doesn't mean anything good for online sportsbook operators. They might remain on the outside looking in whenever Florida settles their sports betting dispute. They may also look to file more motions that could delay the re-installment of in-person sports betting even further.
The latter scenario would be a bummer from Florida residents. They can still set up accounts and place wagers at many of the sites found in our reviews of the top online sportsbooks, and they can also travel across state lines to submit bets. But in terms of being able to legally place bets online inside Florida, it sure feels like that won't be possible before 2025.
At the absolute earliest.
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