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DC Judge Hears Legal Arguments Against Florida Sports Betting

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 6 mins

DC Judge Hears Legal Arguments Against Florida Sports Betting

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A federal judge Friday heard arguments in a pair of lawsuits filed in opposition to the Florida gaming compact that allows online sports betting in the state.

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich did not issue any rulings from the bench. Therefore online sports betting in Florida will continue. The Seminole Tribe of Florida quietly launched its Hard Rock Sportsbook app on Monday

The judge in the District Court for the District of Columbia ordered that the attorneys representing the Department of Interior buttress their written arguments in opposition to the plaintiffs in both cases. She gave them until Tuesday to do so. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and the DOI are listed as the defendant in one of the cases.

”It’s hard to think that the government’s whole litigation strategy seems to be to delay this court from ruling,” Judge Friedrich said during the 1 hour, 45-minute hearing. Friedrich was critical of the government’s argument that the plaintiffs did not have standing without responding to any of the plaintiffs' specific claims.

“I’m confounded by the government’s position,” Friedrich said. “I don't understand how the government could come into this hearing thinking this is just a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss. This makes no sense to me."

'Hub-And-Spoke' At Center Of Issue

Online sports betting in Florida operates through a “hub and spoke” system. The servers processing the wagers are located on Indian land but bettors can be located anywhere in the state. That approach has been at the core of much opposition to the compact, which allows it.

Attorneys representing West Flagler Associates, which owns Magic City Casino in Miami and Bonita Springs Poker Room, said their clients have already suffered harm from the implementation of sports betting in Florida. The other suit was filed by a group that includes “No Casinos,” which helped to get Florida’s Amendment 3 passed in 2018. It argued the Florida compact allowing sports betting is illegal under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Amendment 3 bans the expansion of gambling in Florida without 60% voter approval.

The audio call of the hearing was also highlighted by multiple background noises, including barking dogs, people criticizing the government's attorney, Rebecca Ross, and car-door sounds.

One lawsuit challenging the Tribe and the state was dismissed by a federal judge in Tallahassee two weeks ago. West Flagler Associates sought to stop the sports betting part of the compact, claiming the “hub and spoke” approach is in violation of Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. District Court Judge Allen Winsor ruled that lacked standing to sue the state because it could not demonstrate how the state’s approval of the compact caused them harm.

Sports Betting Underway In Florida

There is no on-site betting yet at any of the Tribe’s casinos. The launch of the Hard Rock Sportsbook at noon on Monday ended months of speculation over when betting would commence in Florida.

Sports betting has been legal in Florida since Oct. 15. Bettors over 21 located geographically in Florida can wager on pro and college sports using the app, which is available through Google Play and the Apple Store. The sports betting app is fairly easy to download and use. Bettors can make deposits through their banks or via PayPal.

The gaming compact was approved by a special session of the Florida legislature in the spring. It was then signed by a representative of the Seminole Tribe and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The compact, which grants the Tribe a monopoly hold on sports betting in the Sunshine State, was allowed to go into effect after the Department of Interior refused to block it over the summer, allowing a 45-day review period to lapse without comment.

Florida has 22.4 million people, which makes it No. 3 in the nation behind California and Texas. Last week, the Seminole Tribe announced a deal that would allow 5 parimutuel facilities within the state to market sports betting. That provision was part of the compact, which guarantees the state $500 million in annual revenue for the next five years. How and where the money is to be spent will be decided during next year’s legislative session.

The Tribe is expected to add more approved current parimutuel license holders who can also take bets. Those sites can have their own online betting apps managed by outside operators, as well. The Tribe gets 40% of all their net revenues.

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2022 Ballot Push

Meanwhile, DraftKings and FanDuel have poured $10 million apiece into the drive to get a sports betting referendum onto the 2022 Florida ballot, fronted by a group called Florida Education Champions. But with roughly 50% its funding expended thus far, just 7.48% of the signatures required to get the item onto the ballot have been gathered.

The proposal backed by FanDuel and DraftKings would initially allow those 21 and over to participate in Florida online sports betting, but only from providers who have been legally licensed in at least 10 other states for at least one year, in addition to the Seminole Tribe.

The mission now is to land enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Petitions featuring the logos of both sportsbooks have landed in the mailboxes of registered Florida voters urging them to return a signed version of the pre-completed form.

As of its Sept. 30 filing with the Florida Division of Elections, Florida Education Champions had spent $9,889,641.11 of the $20,000,154 it had received in contributions

To get an initiative certified for the 2022 Florida ballot, 891,589 valid signatures are required. Those signatures must come from at least 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts. As of Thursday, 74,448 signatures have been validated in support of the ballot item. That’s an increase of 7,688 in four days, or 1,922 daily. There are 95 days remaining before the deadline for verification - Feb. 1, 2022. At this current pace, Florida Education Champions will have an additional 182,590 valid signatures added to its total, falling 634,551 short of the number needed.

Dueling TV ads have begun to air during regional and national NFL and college football games in Florida in support and opposition to ballot initiative. Ads backed by $10 million in funding by the Seminole Tribe demand voters “don’t sign the gambling petitions”. Those ads hit “out of state gambling companies” who would turn Florida into “another Las Vegas.”

Florida Education Champions responded with a TV ad of its own called “win-win” urging registered voters in Florida to return their signed petitions.

The ad focuses on the Tribe having a monopoly and the fact that the money generated by these books would be used for education. “Everyone loves a win-win, and if you’re a fan of sports betting, you can win-win, too!” declares a narrator standing in front of a school chalk board. “Billions of dollars for education. Legal sports betting for you!”


About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.