Florida Casino Opposition Says State and Seminoles Can’t ‘Have it Both Ways’

A group in Florida opposed to more casinos and gambling is speaking out against expanded tribal gaming in the state. “No Casinos in Florida” is opposing the state’s wishes to allow sports bets to be wagered from anywhere inside the country’s third-most populated state.

Florida casino Seminole compact gaming DeSantis
Florida casino Seminole compact gaming DeSantis
Floridians opposed to further gaming expansion make their opinions heard outside the Florida Capitol in May 2021. A Florida casino opposition group is commenting on the Seminole Tribe’s appeal of its 2021 compact, which was thrown out last fall by a federal judge. (Image: Florida Phoenix)

A political organization that helped pass Amendment 3 during the November 2018 election, “No Casinos” is now fighting a new Class III gaming compact. That action expands the Seminole Tribe’s ability to offer table games at its six tribal casinos on its sovereign lands and to operate in-person and online sports betting.

The compact was agreed to in April 2021 by Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and the Seminole Tribe.

Amendment 3, however, prohibits state lawmakers from legalizing commercial casino gambling. The Florida Constitution now requires that any effort to expand gambling in the state by way of new non-tribal casinos be approved by voters through a statewide referendum.

The online sports betting component is what led to legal challenges.

A lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by two racinos against the Department of the Interior for approving the Seminole compact, as required under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Last November, US District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich agreed with the plaintiffs, Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, that the DOI erred in signing off on the compact. Friedrich ruled that the 2021 Seminole compact violates IGRA, as the statute applies only to gaming on Indian lands.

Briefs Filed Ahead of Oral Arguments

The Seminoles halted their gaming expansion following Friedrich’s ruling. The tribe then appealed the case to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In anticipation of oral arguments, parties are filing briefs in support of, or against, the Seminole compact. The tribe has gained much backing, with the DOI and State of Florida each filing briefs asking the appeals court to overturn Friedrich’s opinion.

The Interior Department and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody argue that IGRA requires that Class III gaming take place on a tribe’s sovereign land, but does not limit remote wagering.

The Florida Legislature passed a state law at the same time DeSantis signed the Seminole compact. That allows sports bets to be wagered from anywhere in the state over the internet, so long as the bet goes to a sportsbook computer server housed on Seminole land.

The individual players’ accounts, balances, winnings, and losses are maintained, tracked, and accounted for on servers on the tribe’s Indian lands. The calculation of odds, winnings, losses, and payment are all controlled by software on servers on the tribe’s Indian lands,” the tribe argued in its brief.

The tribe added that disputes between patrons and oddsmakers are to be resolved only on the tribe’s Indian lands.

Unsolicited Brief

Though “No Casinos” isn’t a party to the Seminole lawsuit, the group says it will nonetheless file a brief with its opinions on the tribal gaming controversy. Speaking with the Florida Phoenix this week, “No Casinos” spokesperson John Sowinski said the state and Seminoles are in the wrong with their latest compact.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have it both be exempt from Amendment 3 and have it off tribal lands,” Sowinski opined. “Amendment 3 affects everything that takes place within the state.

“It’s an intellectually dishonest argument. It is an argument that is an affront to the people of Florida who have the right in their constitution to control what forms of gambling exist outside of tribal lands,” he said.

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