DC Circuit Court sides with Seminoles in FL sports betting case

DC Circuit Court Building
Image: Shutterstock / Erik Cox Photography

It was a big victory for tribal gaming, Florida sports betting, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as the DC Circuit Court reversed the decision by the DC District Court regarding the state’s sports betting compact with the tribe.

The new decision vacates the 2021 ruling from Judge Dabney Friedrich that said the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because it regulated gambling off tribal lands and was outside of the scope of what tribal gaming compacts encompass.

The Circuit Court disagreed with that assessment. While IGRA does allow for compacts about what occurs on tribal land, the three-judge panel of the higher court argued that the scope of the compact could stretch beyond it as well. And, if it did, a federal court does not have the jurisdiction to determine whether or not the arrangement was legal.

“The District Court erred by reading into the Compact a legal effect it does not (and cannot) have, namely, independently authorizing betting by patrons located outside of the Tribe’s lands. Rather, the Compact itself authorizes only the betting that occurs on the Tribe’s lands; in this respect it satisfied IGRA. Whether it is otherwise lawful for a patron to place bets from non-tribal land within Florida may be a question for that State’s courts, but it is not the subject of this litigation and not for us to decide.”

In other words, while plaintiff West Flagler can contest whether or not the sports betting taking place on phones and computers is legal, it cannot do so in a federal court and would need to pursue the issue in the Florida court system.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is pleased with today’s unanimous decision,” the tribe said in a statement. “It is a positive outcome for the Seminole tribe and the people of Florida, and for all Indian Country. The tribe is fully reviewing the decision to determine next steps.”

Seminole had previously launched its Hard Rock Sportsbook app in Florida for roughly a month before pulling it down after the initial court ruling in December 2021. The sportsbook’s Twitter account couldn’t help but have a little fun with today’s news:

West Flager can request a Circuit Court en banc rehearing, which is rarely granted in the DC Circuit. The question also remains of whether or not the horse racing group will pursue a lawsuit at the state level. It will also be worth monitoring whether or not the Hard Rock Sportsbook app will go live again in Florida in the meantime.