Florida State-Tribal Gaming Compact Receives Tacit Approval from US Department of Interior, Moving State Closer to Sports Betting Launch

On Friday, August 6, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Interior (the Department) issued a letter indicating it has declined to take action regarding Florida’s state-tribal gaming compact (the Compact) within the 45-day window prescribed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). As a result, the Compact is deemed to have been approved, paving the way for the Seminole Tribe to officially “launch” sports betting operations on October 15, 2021.

As we reported previously, the Compact remains the subject of pending lawsuits. At the heart of these lawsuits is whether the Tribe’s “hub and spoke” betting model (pursuant to which sports betting servers located on tribal land act as the “hub” for mobile wagers initiated anywhere in the state) violates the provision in the IGRA that authorizes gaming exclusively on tribal land. In the August 6 letter, the Department weighs in on this issue, asserting that because the Tribe is authorized to conduct mobile sports betting operations pursuant to both the Compact and the corresponding state law, the Tribe’s “hub and spoke” betting model does not violate the IGRA. The Department maintains that the explicit authorization to offer mobile sports betting distinguishes the Tribe’s “hub and spoke” model from the online tribal gaming operations deemed to violate the IGRA in the past, which were conducted without “the consent of a State pursuant to the tribal-state gaming compact,” and in some cases, “where state law prohibited the contemplated form of online gambling.”

Notably, however, the Department’s analysis is limited to federal law, and therefore does not take into account another issue central to the pending litigation – whether the state law authorizing sports betting violates Florida Constitutional Amendment 3, which requires voter approval for any statewide gaming expansion. The Department acknowledges this limitation in its letter, indicating that “any concern surrounding the State’s authorization of sports betting is outside the scope of the Department’s review,” and noting that the Department’s analysis assumes sports betting was “properly authorized” under state law. To that end, if the state law authorizing the Tribe to offer sports betting were deemed unconstitutional, the Department’s conclusion would likely be rendered moot, and the Tribe’s mobile betting plans would be put on hold unless/until a statewide voter referendum occurs.

We will continue to monitor developments in Florida and provide further analysis and updates regarding significant developments.