Five pari-mutuels sign sports betting agreements with Seminole Tribe, legal hurdles remain

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MAJOR BET: The Seminole Tribe of Florida had a press event Dec. 7, 2006, top left, in New York City when it acquired Hard Rock International. The $965 million purchase included 124 Hard Rock Cafes in 45 countries.

As betting on sports in Florida gets closer to becoming a reality, the Seminole Tribe announced Thursday it reached marketing agreements with five pari-mutuel facilities in preparation for the launch of sports betting in the state.

The tribe, which entered into a new gaming compact that approved by state lawmakers during a May special session, hasn’t announced an exact date when it will launch its mobile sports betting app or allow bets to be placed at its six casinos in the state, including the Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee. Thursday’s announcement allows the Ocala Gainesville Poker and Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co., Hialeah Park, Palm Beach Kennel Club, Tampa Bay Downs and Tampa’s TGT Poker & Racebook pari-mutuels to take bets that will be processed through servers located on tribal land in exchange for 40% of proceeds from each bet going to the tribe.

The new gaming compact guarantees 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 last month, when a $37 million payment was transmitted. “The gaming compact is a mutually beneficial partnership between the state and Seminole Tribe that positively impacts all Floridians,” Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said in a release. “In addition to our revenue sharing contributions, we are hiring hundreds of Floridians and investing millions of dollars in the state.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the deal is expanding economic opportunity, tourism and recreation in the state. “Not only will this compact bring a guaranteed $2.5 billion in revenue over the next five years, but it also brings together Florida pari-mutuel businesses from across the state in a creative partnership with the Seminole Tribe providing increased access to safe and transparent sports betting in Florida,” he says. “Today’s announcement is a great success for the state and the Seminole Tribe, and I look forward to the announcement of additional partnerships to come.”

Noticeably absent from Thursday’s agreements are the Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino out of Miami. The pari-mutuels filed a federal lawsuit in Washington. D.C., against the U.S. Department of Interior, a move that could postpone wagering into 2022.

The “hub and spoke” model detailed in the compact allows bets placed online or through pari-mutuel permit holders to be processed through servers located on tribal land. That is a point of contention for the Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino. The two pari-mutuels filed a motion Sept. 21 against U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, whose office allowed the compact to commence, in the federal District Court for the District of Columbia to prohibit the implementation of online sports betting in the state.

The side argues the compact violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which only allows for state-sanctioned gaming to take place on tribal land, according to the motion. Those placing sports bets on their mobile phones qualifies as making illegal wagers off the reservation, the side states. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5 in district court.

Another lawsuit filed in Tallahassee by the pari-mutuels was dismissed by a U.S. district judge. Bonita Springs Poker Room spokesperson Izzy Havenick declined comment citing pending litigation. Court documents show the tribe doesn’t plan to implement online sports betting until Nov. 15, but Seminole Tribe spokesperson Gary Bitner said the tribe has yet to announce an exact sports date.


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