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Tribe wins court appeal in sports betting fight

The Hard Rock Sportsbook sports betting app could be reinstated after an appellate court’s ruling June 30. (Hard Rock)

The Seminole Tribe has won a significant legal battle that could pave the way for sports betting to return to Florida.

On June 30, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., in a unanimous decision, reversed a 2021 district court ruling that said the tribe’s gaming compact with the state of Florida violated federal Indian gaming laws. The ruling on Nov. 1, 2021, had abruptly shut down the Hard Rock Sportsbook sports betting app just three weeks after it had gone live. The Seminole Tribe is the parent entity of Hard Rock International.

Sports betting is part of a historic gaming compact that was signed between the tribe and the state on April 23, 2021.

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

The decision by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit orders the Department of Interior to reinstate the agreement that gave the tribe and its Hard Rock casinos the ability to operate the Hard Rock Sportsbook sports betting app in the state. The ruling also paves the way for the tribe to pursue potential new casinos in South Florida.

The appeals court said that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which regulates gaming agreements known as compacts between states and tribes, was flexible enough to allow for Florida’s arrangement.

“IGRA does not prohibit a gaming compact – which is, at bottom, is an agreement between a tribe and a state – from discussing other topics, including those governing activities outside Indian lands,” the court said in a 24-page ruling.

The tribe and the state are now allowed to enter into a 30-year agreement. The tribe would control sports betting in Florida and could add roulette and craps to its casino operations. In return, it would pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years of the deal. It has been described by the state as the largest gaming compact in U.S. history.

Opponents of the ruling said, as reported in the Miami Herald, that the appellate decision opens the door for additional legal challenges – including the possibility that the agreement could be challenged in state courts.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at