Court refuses to put gambling ruling on hold

In this Sept. 9, 2018 photo, customers watch sports on a giant screen at the sports book of the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Panelists at a gambling conference in Atlantic City, on Thursday, June 13, 2019, predicted 90 percent of all US sports betting will be done online or over smart phones within the next 10 years. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

The future of sports betting in Florida remained rocky on Friday, after a divided appeals court rejected the Seminole Tribe’s request to put on hold a federal judge’s ruling that scrapped a deal giving the tribe control over online sports betting throughout the state.

The tribe filed an emergency motion last week asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to stay U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s Nov. 22 ruling. Owners of two Florida pari-mutuels filed the lawsuit challenging the deal, known as a compact.

Friedrich decision found that U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, whose agency oversees tribal gambling, erred in allowing the compact to go into effect because it violates federal law. Friedrich’s ruling also rejected the tribe’s motions to intervene in the lawsuit, which was filed against Haaland and the Department of Interior, and have it dismissed.

After a flurry of court filings this week, a three-judge panel of the Washington, D.C.-based appellate court denied the Seminoles’ attempt to put Friedrich’s ruling on hold until their appeal is resolved.

“Appellant has not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending appeal,” the order by Judges Cornelia T.L. Pillard and Justin R. Walker said. The order said Judge Judith W. Rogers would have granted a stay.

The appellate judges did not elaborate on their reasons, as is common in such decisions.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola, Jr., signed the compact this spring. The Legislature approved it during a May special session, although some lawmakers and gambling experts questioned whether it would withstand legal scrutiny.

The “hub-and-spoke” sports-betting plan in the compact was designed to allow gamblers throughout the state to place bets online, with the bets run through computer servers on tribal property. The compact says bets made anywhere in Florida “using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.” Under the compact, the tribe would ultimately pay billions of dollars to the state because of sports betting and other benefits, such as being able to offer craps and roulette at tribal casinos.

Owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida challenged the compact in federal courts in Washington, D.C. and Tallahassee, alleging the sports-betting provision violates federal law and would have a “significant and potentially devastating” impact on their businesses. The Havenick family has owned the pari-mutuels for decades.

Amid the legal wrangling, the tribe quietly launched the Seminoles’ Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile-betting app on Nov. 1 and has continued to accept and process wagers following Friedrich’s ruling.

It was not immediately clear Friday night whether the Seminoles plan to suspend their online sports-betting operations after the appeals court’s decision.

“The Seminole Tribe is aware of today’s appeals court decision and is carefully considering the steps it will take as a result. Despite the decision, the Seminole Tribe looks forward to a hearing from the appeals court based on the appeal previously filed by the tribe and an expected appeal by the U.S. Department of Justice,” Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the tribe, said in an email.

Department of Justice lawyers said in a court document this week the government did not oppose the tribe’s emergency motion for a stay and that it had not decided whether to appeal Friedrich’s ruling.

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