Seminole Tribe asks appeals court to intervene, issue stay on gambling compact

·2 min read
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Marcellus Osceola Jr., chairman of the Seminole Tribe, hold up the gaming compact that they signed in April.

The Seminole Tribe has asked a Washington, D.C.-based appeals court for a stay of a ruling that rejected a gambling deal allowing sports betting in Florida.

Attorneys for the tribe filed the emergency motion Thursday at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the gambling deal between the state and the tribe violated federal law. Friedrich subsequently refused to stay her ruling as the tribe pursued an appeal.

The appeals court has ordered attorneys for two pari-mutuel facilities that challenged the deal to respond by noon Tuesday to the emergency motion. It also ordered a response from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is the defendant in the lawsuit because it signed off on the gambling deal.

The tribe received control of sports betting as part of the agreement, known as a compact, which was signed this spring by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr., and approved by the Legislature during a May special session. The Department of the Interior, which oversees Indian gambling issues, signed off on the deal in August.

Owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida, two longtime pari-mutuel facilities, filed a lawsuit against Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and her agency alleging that the sports-betting plan violated a federal law known as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That law, commonly known as IGRA, creates a framework for gambling activity on tribal lands.

Friedrich’s rejection of the deal centered on gamblers being able to place sports bets online from across the state, with the wagers run through computer servers on tribal property. She said that violated federal law because bets would be placed off tribal property.

“Altogether, over a dozen provisions in IGRA regulate gaming on ‘Indian lands,’ and none regulate gaming in another location,” the Washington, D.C., judge wrote Nov. 22. “It is equally clear that the [Interior Department] secretary must reject compacts that violate IGRA’s terms.”

But in Thursday’s emergency motion for a stay, attorneys for the Seminoles argued that Friedrich erred by denying an attempt by the tribe to intervene in the case. The tribe sought to intervene so it could file a motion to dismiss the case, based on its sovereign immunity.

If the emergency motion is successful, Friedrich’s ruling would be put on hold until the appeals court can decide the intervention issue.