Florida’s Seminole Compact In Focus at G2E, Deemed ‘Kind of Vulnerable’

Posted By Brant James on October 4, 2021 - Last Updated on October 5, 2021

The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s new sports betting compact is being scrutinized by more than the lawyers of groups trying to stop it. That was apparent by the number of times it was mentioned by industry leaders and seminar panelists on Monday on the pre-opening day of the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) convention in Las Vegas.

That was particularly the case in one jammed session entitled “Is Online Gaming the Future of Tribal Gaming?”

There was hope – and concern.

The deal, which would allow the Tribe the right to offer state-wide mobile sports betting with servers housed on tribal land, was described by attorney Stephen Hart as yet another blueprint for native gambling companies drawn up by the owners of the Hard Rock global brand.

“The Seminole model is the way to go in the future,” said Hart, who represents the Navajo Nation in Arizona and was involved in negotiating the 2021 sports betting compact there.

It remains to be seen if the Seminole compact survives numerous legal challenges seeking to halt the Seminole’s planned launch of mobile Florida sports betting this fall.

Elizabeth Homer, an attorney, member of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, and former vice-chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, was cautious about the legal challenges surrounding the so-called “hub-and-spoke” model that she supports and the Florida compact enshrines for the first time.

“It’s kind of vulnerable,” she said.

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Seminole Compact garnering interest from tribal observers

Even before Homer’s declaration, Hart had underscored to a room full of attendees from tribal gaming companies, “showing up and being on their side is very important.”

The Seminole tribe’s list of allies currently is short, but powerful. The deal was spearheaded by Gov. Ron DeSantis and whisked through the state legislature despite protests from some legislators about the preservation of the tribe’s state gambling virtual monopoly, and their belief that compact language could be used to benefit certain casino-owning special interests. The online portion of the deal could be a lifeline for the state’s pari mutuels.

But the Seminoles being allowed to offer state-wide mobile betting through compact language, and not a separate deal with the state that could require voter approval has always been the main sticking point. Proponents acknowledged it in the process. The Department of the Interior allowed the compact to pass into law without officially rendering judgment. But Bureau of Indian Affairs assistant secretary Bryan Newland said in his summation that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act should not prevent the Seminoles from offering state-wide betting even though its language has been interpreted before to mean just that.

Numerous industry observers and West Flagler Associates, which owns two Florida gaming establishments, disagree and have filed suit in state and federal court seeking an injunction to stop the launch of online sports betting in Florida. Court papers filed by West Flagler insinuated that the Seminoles were targeting Nov. 15, but a tribe spokesperson said that date is not a stated launch date. Hard Rock Digital announced a sports betting deal with Genius Sports on Oct. 5.

“This hub and spoke thing is really intriguing,” Homer said. “But the hub and spoke idea is kind of vulnerable because jurisdiction is based on territory and for online gaming to become the way of the future, we’re going to have to see where the gaming takes place as we go up into the worldwide web, right?

“How are we going to decide what is Indian land, who has jurisdiction? Now we’re going to have to see, because Interior did not put their [approval] on the idea. Now we’re going to have to see what the courts say and that litigation has just started.”

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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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