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The Seminole Tribe continues to face a legal battle over sports betting

News Service of Florida

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has relaunched its sports betting app to a limited group of people, nearly two years since it was shut down. The tribe plans to offer in-person sports betting at its casinos in early December.

Despite that, legal challenges have persisted. Pari-mutuel companies asked the Florida Supreme Court in September to stop the sports betting app, saying it violates a 2018 constitutional amendment that bans expanding casino gambling without voter approval. On Friday, the court rejected that request with no explanation.

A federal lawsuit also argued the app violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, since it allows gambling off tribal lands. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the 2021 compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe, which allowed for the tribe to offer online sports betting, on Oct. 25.

Daniel Wallach is the founder of Wallach Legal, a law firm in Hallandale Beach focused on gambling laws. He spoke about sports betting Friday with Tom Hudson on The Florida Roundup.

“The argument on one side is that sports betting is a form of casino gambling. The counterargument is that, well, sports wagering isn't the kind of game endemic to a casino environment, and it wasn't the type of game typically found in a casino back in 2018,” Wallach said.

The 2021 compact gives the Seminole Tribe a monopoly over sports betting in Florida. The deal said bets “using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.”

John Sowinski is the president of No Casinos, an organization that led the way for the 2018 constitutional amendment. He said statewide e-betting as set up by the compact falls under no regulation.

“If you look at the Federal Wire Act, any transaction that takes place by wire electronically takes place in two places," Sowinski said. "One is where it originates and the other is where it is received. And it has to be legal in both jurisdictions for it to be a legal transaction. And so I don't know of any body of law that exists that attempts sort of this legal fiction.”

Although the state supreme court turned down the pari-mutuel companies' petition, the legal battle isn't over. Wallach said the decisions for both lawsuits have effects outside of the Seminole Tribe.

“... it would have far-reaching implications and would allow or empower tribes and other states to seek the same kind of blueprint for their gaming relationships with their states and potentially have monopolies over online sports betting,” Wallach said.

Sowinski said there will be implications in Florida politics as well, and that the voices of those who voted for the 2018 amendment should be respected.

"... it would have far reaching implications and would allow or empower tribes and other states to seek the same kind of blueprint for their gaming relationships with their states and potentially have monopolies over online sports betting." Daniel Wallach

The Seminole Tribe, which first entered the gambling business in 1979, currently runs six casinos across Florida. The revenue from the business has had an impact on the tribe’s sovereignty, according to Jessica Cattelino, author of the book “High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty.”

“They have chosen to use casino revenues in ways that strengthen the social fabric and to a large extent, the cultural distinctiveness of their own communities.”

She continued: “Historically, it's been hard for tribes to assert their political power because they haven't had resources. If you think about the world as a whole, it's common understanding in politics and in academics that having resources strengthens a nation's sovereignty. And it's no different for the Seminole Tribe.”

Gambling has had a cultural impact on the tribe as well, Cattalino said, especially since it employs its own citizens.

“Others don't have to work anymore. You can do the things you need to do, like, mourn the people you've lost, celebrate events that casinos have funded, museums, educational programs, cultural programs," Cattalino said. "That kind of money, it just gives people a little flexibility to do things the way they want to do them.”

If you or someone you know may have a gambling problem, you can call or text The National Problem Gambling Helpline Network at 1-800-522-4700 or chat with a specialist online. Inquiries are answered 24/7 and remain confidential.
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Gabriella Pinos