(Photo Credit: Miami Herald)
The table is set and the stakes are high. The players are the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, FanDuel, DraftKings, Las Vegas Sands, and Magic City Casinos with West Flagler & Associates. The game is Texas Hold’Em and the prize is the right to provide sports betting services in the Sunshine State.
The days of anonymous message board bookies and crypto-winnings payouts are waning as more and more states legalize sports wagering. As of July 2021, 14 states allow some sort of mobile sports betting, while numerous others have sports betting bills on the books (according to actionnetwork.com), non-less controversial than the great and sometimes wacky state of Florida. Poised as possibly the largest sports wagering market in the country, it is no surprise that there are a lot of big players at Florida’s sports betting table.
In April of 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida signed a massive, 30-year gaming compact. The compact, projected to bring $6 billion to the state of Florida, granted expanded gaming rights to the Seminole Tribe, including a controversial and exclusive expansion into mobile sports betting. It seemed as if the duo had flopped a straight, but did they pull a card out of their sleeve?
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) became federal law in 1988. The IGRA was intended to establish a gaming framework that would help all Native American tribes generate revenue while also protecting their gaming ventures from outside influence. A key provision in the IGRA requires gaming to occur “on Indian lands.” The compact, not so subtly, states “wagers made by players physically located within the state using a mobile or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the Tribe where the servers or other devices used to conduct such wagering activity on the Tribe’s Indian lands are located.” This clever work-around to the “on Indian lands” requirement would allow bettors to use a mobile app to place bets anywhere within the state.
In a series of tweets, Conduct Detrimental’s own Dan Wallach was quick to point out the compact’s work-around will not likely pass federal muster. In the first of many challenges to the compact, a complaint by Magic City Casinos shows that the state of Florida has already decided the issue in previous rulings; stating, “the phrase “on Indian lands” (as used in IGRA) is unambiguous and literally requires that the person placing the wager be physically present on tribal land.”
The compact was submitted for review to the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the Interior Department. The Bureau is allotted 45 days to approve, decline, or give no response to such agreements. The effect of a “no response” is that the compact would be approved, but only to the extent that it is consistent with the IGRA. The compact would lack the support and legal bolster of a full Bureau approval and comment. August 5th marked day 45 and there has been no response. Both state and federal challenges to the compact are sure to follow. So, if the compact fails, how are Florida sports bettors going to get their fix?? No worries, the door is about to be kicked wide open.
According to an article by the Tampa Bay Times, over $62 million has been poured into political action committees (PACs) and lobbying efforts surrounding sports betting in Florida. In some of the cleverest PAC titling ever, Magic City Casinos donated $15 million to the creation of the People Against Regulatory Legislation Addressing You committee… or the PARLAY PAC for short. Further, Las Vegas Sands, FanDuel, and DraftKings teamed up with a whopping $37 million donation towards their own PAC. In response to the mounting opposition, the Seminole Tribe also put forth $10 million to defend the compact. This sudden influx of money was most certainly due to a new bill, signed by DeSantis, which went into effect on July 1, to curb ballot-gathering contributions. Regardless, the pot is now right and we are just waiting on the river.
Will the compact hold up against state and federal challenges? Will the numerous PACs be able to gain statewide voter support for a new sports betting law? Will Florida sports bettors finally be able to legally wager? The Florida 2022 Regular Legislative Session is set to begin on January 11, 2022 and it will be one for the (sports) books!
Van Santos is a recent graduate of Nashville School of Law. He is a resident of Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Van on Twitter at @Van_Santos_13 or through email at [email protected].