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Federal judge throws out state’s sports betting deal with Seminole Tribe 

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Hard Rock Hollywood

Sports betting in Florida lasted 22 days before a federal judge halted its exclusive gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe, ruling Monday night that it violates Indian gaming law.

The tribe quietly rolled out its Hard Rock Sportsbook app Nov. 1, allowing bettors to place wagers from their phones and computers from anywhere in the state. Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled bets made off tribal land but through servers on tribal land violated terms of federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The ruling was a win for the owners of the Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade-County who challenged the compact negotiated by Gov. Ron DeSantis and passed in a special session by the Legislature in May.

“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,” Christian Ulvert, spokesman for the Magic City Casino, said. “We would like to thank our legal team at Boise Schiller for their outstanding efforts. The judge clearly understood the blatant violation of the IGRA as her ruling demonstrates. We look forward to working with the governor, Legislature and the citizens of Florida to pave a path forward that ensures a fair gaming marketplace exists in Florida.”

The 30-year gaming compact guaranteed a minimum of $2.5 billion in revenue sharing for Florida over the first five years. The state received its first monthly revenue sharing contribution from the Seminole Tribe in September when a $37 million payment was transmitted.

Friederich declared the compact’s assertion that all betting occurs at the location of the tribe’s sportsbooks and supporting servers to be “fiction,” according to court documents. The decision marks a return to the drawing board for DeSantis and the tribe, which could agree to a new compact that allows in-person wagering on sports at its six casinos, including the Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee. DeSantis said he expects the federal government to appeal during an appearance in Fort Lauderdale.

“We are reviewing the Court’s perplexing ruling, which certainly contains appealable issues. Because neither the Seminole Tribe nor the State of Florida are parties to the case, it is unclear what if any immediate impact the ruling has in Florida. We look forward to working with the Tribe to ensure the future success of the Compact,” a statement from DeSantis’ office said.

“The Seminole Tribe is reviewing the judges opinion and carefully considering its next steps,” tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said. The tribe filed a notice of appeal Tuesday afternoon in federal court seeking reverse Friedrich’s decision, according to court records.

Another way forward could be an amendment on the November 2020 ballot to enable statewide sports betting. Industry leaders FanDuel and DraftKings have already put forth $10 million each to launch a petition for an amendment.

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