Federal Judge Blocks Seminole Tribe's Gambling, Online Sports Betting Deal With Florida

Federal District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich discovered that a multimillion dollar agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Florida that allows online betting violated a federal rule that says a person must physically be on tribal land when wagering, blocking the decision.

It was found in a ruling Monday for a lawsuit that challenged the U.S. Department of the Interior's approval of the agreement filed by non-Indian casino owners in Florida.

"Last night's ruling was a victory for family-owned businesses like ours who pay their fair share in taxes and believe the free market should guide the business operations of gaming venues," a spokesman for Magic City Casino said in a statement, according to Local10.com.

On Tuesday, the Seminole Tribe began an appeal of Friedrich's decision. The state and tribe argued that people could wager anywhere in the state because their bets are processed on computer servers located on tribal lands, the Associated Press reported.

Friedrich called that a "fiction," in her ruling, saying, "When a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by 'deeming' their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not."

Friedrich also added that gambling outside of tribal lands must be put to a vote, according to a 2018 state constitutional amendment.

The tribe is restricted from adding roulette and craps to their Florida casinos under the decision, as well. This could have allowed non-Indian casinos to follow suit.

Florida was the most recent state to legalize sports gambling after a 2018 Supreme Court ruling. The ruling lifted bans on sports betting outside Nevada and other states. Bets originally started being taken Nov. 1 on the Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app before Friedrich's decision, Local10.com reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Seminole Tribe, Florida, Sports Betting, Appeal
The Seminole Tribe of Florida is attempting to appeal a decision by a federal judge to block a 30-year agreement between the tribe and Florida to allow sports betting in the state. In this photo, 7th Tribal Council Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Marcellus William Osceola Jr. inside the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, on October 18, 2019. Zak Bennett/AFP via Getty Images

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had worked out the deal with the tribe earlier this year and the GOP-controlled legislature approved it soon after, with the state potentially receiving $20 billion over the next 30 years.

Critics of the deal cheered its rejection, arguing that it also violates a constitutional requirement that prevents the expansion of gambling outside of tribal lands without voter approval. Miami billionaire Norman Braman, who has led a years-long battle against expanded gambling in Florida, called the decision a "big win for our community and our state."

He said the deal's ultimate goal wasn't just to allow sports wagering, but to allow casinos to open in Miami Beach, downtown Miami, Trump's golf resort near Miami and elsewhere throughout the state. He said that would harm the state's quality of life, increase crime and turn some of its cities into another Las Vegas.

"This is not what the state of Florida is," Braman said. "We are growing here. People are coming here to our state and our community. We are developing a high-tech industry here. Casino gambling and an extension of gambling is not what this community is all about."

Ron DeSantis, Seminole Tribe, Sports Betting, Agreement
A federal judge blocks the gambling agreement between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe. In this photo, DeSantis waits to present a check to a first responder during an event to give out bonuses to them held at the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside on August 10, 2021, in Surfside, Florida. Joe Readle/Getty Images