Seminoles Forced to Suspend Bookmaking Operations

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The Hard Rock Cafe inside the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Photo by Zak BENNETT / AFP.

The Florida Seminole Tribe thought they had a deal with the state on sports betting due to a compact that was signed this past spring between Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola and Governor Ron DeSantis, and subsequently authorized by the state legislature during a May special session.

However, a federal judge ruled that the Seminoles online betting platform throughout the state violated federal law. The Seminoles subsequently filed a motion to stay the order pending an appeal. The appeals court would not grant the stay and legal bookmaking in Florida came to a sudden halt on Saturday.

It was a divided three-justice decision but one that went against the Seminole Tribe having sports betting exclusivity in the Sunshine State and ruling against the motion to stay. The decision was rendered on Friday, December 3rd, and on Saturday the following message was presented to bettors looking to get down on the Hard Rock mobile platform that the tribe uses.

“Although we are temporarily suspending the acceptance of new bets and account deposits, we remain committed to building the best place for sports betting in Florida.”

Other messages on the app stated the following, “all active bets for events starting before 11 a.m. ET on Dec. 4 will run and settle based on event outcome per normal.” All bets for events starting after 11 a.m. Saturday “will be voided and initial bet amounts returned to your app wallet,” it said.

“Your funds are safe & secure. The app will remain active for easy withdrawals,” the message said and suggested users check the social media sites for further news on the developing situation.

The pushback to the compact and the right for the Seminoles to book throughout the state came via the Havenick family, owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room, citing the sports betting element of the compact violates federal law and would have a “significant and potentially devastating” effect on their business.

The Havenick’s won the first legal round on November 22nd when U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich stated that the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, made an error when she authorized the compact.

“Altogether, over a dozen provisions in IGRA regulate gaming on ‘Indian lands,’ and none regulate gaming in another location,” Friedrich wrote. “It is equally clear that the (Interior Department) secretary must reject compacts that violate IGRA’s terms.”

The contention by the Seminoles and the state was that because the servers were technically on tribal property, the bets were being accepted there as well. But the online platform had bettors making their wagers anywhere from Miami to Tallahassee, and everywhere in between.

Thus, the physical location of the bettors making the wagers was not on tribal land which became the sticking point even though the servers were. Despite the tribe’s contention that it was where the servers were housed that made all the difference, Judge Friedrich was quoted as writing, “this court cannot accept that fiction.”

And on Friday, Judge Friedrich’s ruling was upheld and the motion to stay was not granted. There will certainly be more legal jockeying as the Seminoles are unlikely to give up having a captive audience as big as Florida in which to make book. But we at Bookmakers Review will keep you updated on this case as it unfolds.